Altria Profit Tops Estimates, But Shares Fall

Altria Group posted a second-quarter profit Thursday that slightly beat Wall Street estimates, helped by higher prices, but the number of cigarettes shipped by its Philip Morris USA unit fell more than some analysts expected.

The pace of the shipment decline also accelerated from the first quarter, the opposite of what rival Reynolds American reported on Wednesday, and Altria's stock lost more than 5 percent.

Altria's company offices in New York.
Diane Bondareff
Altria's company offices in New York.

"Price increases accelerated the volume decline seen in the first quarter," Gregg Warren, an analyst at Morningstar said.

Altria shares also may have been pressured because the House passed a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration broad authority to regulate cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, Warren said.

But the White House said advisers would recommend the president veto the bill, and Philip Morris USA has actually supported the legislation.

The parent of Marlboro cigarette maker Philip Morris USA said profit from continuing operations was 45 cents a share in the second quarter, compared with 34 cents a share a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, earnings were 46 cents a share, compared with the 45-cent average analyst estimate compiled by Reuters Estimates.

Altria spun off the Philip Morris International tobacco business at the end of March, so net income fell to $930 million, or 45 cents a share, from $2.22 billion, or $1.05 a share, a year earlier.

The company also stood by its full-year profit forecast, with price increases and lower expenses helping to boost earnings from continuing operations.

That forecast calls for earnings from continuing operations of $1.63 to $1.67 a share, while the average analyst estimate is $1.67 a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Revenue rose 4 percent to $5.05 billion.

Revenue, excluding excise taxes, was $4.18 billion, compared with the average analyst estimate of $4.03 billion compiled by Reuters Estimates.

Philip Morris USA's cigarette market share rose to 51 percent from 50.5 percent a year earlier, with the top-selling Marlboro brand commanding 41.8 percent of the U.S. market, up from 41 percent a year earlier.

The company shipped 43.6 billion cigarettes in the quarter, down 4.5 percent from a year earlier. Shipment volume fell only 1.2 percent in the first quarter.

That decline was steeper than some analysts had expected.

But Deutsche Bank analyst Marc Greenberg said profit per cigarette rose 5.7 percent, a sign that cigarette companies have been successful in putting though price increases.

Altria shares fell $1.21, or 5.5 percent, to $20.49 on the New York Stock Exchange.