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Altria (MO) Up 1.9% Since Last Earnings Report: Can It Continue?

Zacks Equity Research
Here at Zacks, our focus is on the proven Zacks Rank system, which emphasizes earnings estimates and estimate revisions to find great stocks. Nevertheless, we are always paying attention to the latest value, growth, and momentum trends to underscore strong picks.

A month has gone by since the last earnings report for Altria (MO). Shares have added about 1.9% in that time frame, outperforming the S&P 500.

Will the recent positive trend continue leading up to its next earnings release, or is Altria due for a pullback? Before we dive into how investors and analysts have reacted as of late, let's take a quick look at its most recent earnings report in order to get a better handle on the important drivers.

Altria's Q1 Earnings Miss Estimates, High Interests Hurt

Altria released first-quarter 2019 results, with earnings missing the Zacks Consensus Estimate and declining year on year. High interest expenses were a major deterrent on the bottom line. Also, the top line was unimpressive, thanks to sluggishness in the smokeable category. Moreover, lower shipment volumes in the smokeable and smokeless categories dented quarterly results.

Quarter in Details

Adjusted earnings of 90 cents per share lagged the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 92 cents. Earnings declined 5.3% year over year due to higher interest expenses and reduced adjusted equity earnings related to AB InBev.

Net revenues contracted 7.9% year over year to $5,628 million. Lower revenues in the smokeable unit marred top-line performance. Revenues net of excise taxes fell 6% to $4,389 million. The Zacks Consensus Estimate was pegged at $4,541 million.

Also, in the quarter under review, gross profit fell 4.3% to $2,811 million from the prior-year quarter’s tally.

Segment Details

Smokeable Products: Net revenues in the category fell 8.8% year over year to $4,935 million, thanks to lower shipment volumes. This was partially offset by higher pricing and lower promotional investments. Revenues net of excise taxes contracted 7% year over year to $3,732 million.

Total shipment volume in the category declined 14.1% from the prior-year quarter’s tally. Also, domestic cigarette shipment volumes dropped 14.3% year over year due to inventory movements, lower cigarette industry volumes, decline in retail share and one-less shipping day. During the quarter, the company’s total cigarette retail share dipped 0.7 percentage point to reach 49.8%.

Adjusted OCI in the segment slid 0.2% to $1,991 million due to lower shipment volumes. The downside was offset by improved pricing as well as reduced promotional investments and costs. Adjusted OCI margins improved 3.6 percentage points to 53.3%.

Smokeless Products: Net revenues in the segment improved 2.9% from the year-ago quarter’s figure to $540 million, driven by higher pricing and reduced promotional investments. These were partially countered by low shipment volumes. Also, revenues net of excise taxes increased 3.2% to $509 million in the quarter.

Domestic shipment volumes in the category declined 2.2%. Total smokeless products retail share inched up 0.1 percentage point to 53.9%.

Adjusted OCI rose 7.9% to $367 million owing to improved pricing as well as reduced promotional investments and costs. These were partially offset by lower shipment volumes. Adjusted OCI margin expanded 3.1 percentage points to 72.1%.

Wine: Net revenues increased 6.3% year on year to $ 151 million, courtesy of higher shipment volumes. The uptick was partially countered by increased promotional spending. The segment’s revenues, net of excise taxes went up 6.6% to $146 million. Wine shipment volume increased 8% to 1.9 million cases.

Adjusted OCI in the category declined 11.8% to $15 million as a result of higher costs and promotional expenses, somewhat offset by improved shipment volume. Adjusted OCI margin contracted 2.1 percentage point to 10.3%.

Financial Updates

In the first quarter, the company paid dividends worth almost $1.5 billion. The company’s annualized dividend rate is currently pegged at $3.20 per share. Further, management is on track to maintain a payout ratio of 80% of the bottom line.

Further, the company repurchased 2.7 million shares for approximately $151 billion in the first quarter. As of Mar 31, 2018, Altria had around $195 million remaining under the share repurchase program of $2 billion, which is expected to be completed by the end of second-quarter 2019.

Other Developments

During the quarter, the company closed investment in Cronos Group Inc, worth almost $1.8 billion. As a result, Altria controls 45% economic and voting rights in Cronos along with a warrant to acquire additional stake. Also, during the quarter, Altria filed an application with the U.S. FTC for the conversion of its rights in JULL to voting securities.

The term loan pertaining to these investments was repaid by Altria through the issue of debt worth $16.3 billion.

In December, the company revealed a cost-reduction program aimed at delivering annualized cost savings of nearly $575 million by the end of 2019. In addition to efforts pertaining to cost-minimization across several platforms, the program is aimed to reduce workforce and third-party spending. During the first quarter, the company recorded pre-tax charges of $61 million in relation to this program.

Outlook

Management restated the guidance for 2019, wherein it expects adjusted earnings in the range of $4.15-$4.27, which suggests year-over-year growth of 4-7%. Moreover, Altria expects domestic cigarette industry volume to decline in the range of 4-5%. Further, the company expects 2019 adjusted effective tax rate of 23.5-24.5%.

How Have Estimates Been Moving Since Then?

Fresh estimates followed an upward path over the past two months.

VGM Scores

Currently, Altria has a subpar Growth Score of D, though it is lagging a bit on the Momentum Score front with an F. However, the stock was allocated a grade of C on the value side, putting it in the middle 20% for this investment strategy.

Overall, the stock has an aggregate VGM Score of D. If you aren't focused on one strategy, this score is the one you should be interested in.

Outlook

Altria has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). We expect an in-line return from the stock in the next few months.



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