Imperial Sees Further Earnings Growth in First Quarter

Britain's Imperial Tobacco Group on Tuesday said earnings grew further in the last three months of 2007 along with higher cigarette volumes and share gains in many of its markets.

The world's fourth-biggest tobacco firm, which makes Lambert & Butler and West cigarettes, said it was trading in line with its expectations in an update ahead of its annual general meeting later on Tuesday.

Chief Executive Gareth Davis said after a record year for the company in the year to September 2007, positive trading trends continued in its first quarter to December 2007.

"In the first quarter of 2008 many of these positive trends continued with further growth in earnings, cigarette volumes and share gains in many markets," Davis said in a statement.

In Britain, where it makes over a third of group profits, its annual cigarette market share was stable at 46.4 percent, in a market that fell 4 percent to 47 billion cigarettes in 2007 partly due to public smoking bans implemented in the year.

In Germany, Imperial raised its market share to 21.4 percent in December from 21.3 percent in September in an overall German market in 2007 down 6 percent at 126 billion cigarettes.

Last week, Imperial completed its 12.6 billion euro takeover of Franco-Spanish cigarette maker Altadis, and launched a 910 million euros bid for the 40 percent of Spain's Logista that Altadis does not control.

Imperial's bid of 52.50 euros a share for the Logista stake effectively put the stake in the logistics company up for sale as it was below analysts' valuations and is expected to smoke out a counterbidder.

Imperial confirmed that its rights issue to pay for Altadis will be no more than 5 billion pounds ($9.9 billion), and will be completed by June 18, 2008, a year after it first announced the deal.

Imperial shares closed 0.2 percent lower.