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Rising Star Buy: Philip Morris International

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This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series.

I'm excited to recommend and open a position in Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM  ) .

The business
Philip Morris is unique in that it is an American company that earns 100% of its revenue from outside the U.S. It sells cigarettes around the world -- with 40% of its sales coming from the European Union, 24% from EMEA (Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa), 22% from Asia, and 12% from Latin America and Canada. Its brands have been ingrained in people's minds through years of advertising, allowing the company to charge more for its products. Combined with an addictive product, this brand strength means Philip Morris will be a market leader for years to come.

Why buy?: Dominant business ...
Philip Morris is the most powerful tobacco company in the world, with seven of the world's top 15 brands, including top-seller Marlboro. The company has an estimated 27% market share in its world markets -- excluding China, where only government-owned China National Tobacco is allowed to operate, and the U.S., where the company's former parent, Altria (NYSE: MO  ) , is dominant.

Philip Morris' largest competitors are British American Tobacco (NYSE: BTI  ) , Imperial Tobacco Group, and Japan Tobacco.

... With a large moat ...
There are significant barriers to entry in the tobacco industry. There are heavy regulations which vary significantly from country to country. The positive side is that some of these regulations help keep Philip Morris entrenched as the market leader. For example, regulations to ban displays of cigarettes are a boon for the company as consumers are more likely to go with a brand they can name rather than asking about other brands. This mind share allows Philip Morris to charge more for its products, leading the company to have absurdly high margins. It's 41% operating margins are far superior to competitors British American Tobacco at 33%, Imperial Tobacco at 20%, and Japan Tobacco at 15%!

... Cash cow!
In the past three years, Philip Morris has produced nearly $23 billion in free cash flow and increased its dividend every year. The company used that cash flow as well as some debt ($9.2 billion in the past three years) to create value for shareholders. With that $32 billion, the company:

  1. Used $16 billion for share repurchases, which have reduced the share count 16% since the company's spinoff in 2008. Among tobacco companies, only Lorillard (NYSE: LO  ) has been able to keep up with that level of share repurchases.
  2. Distributed $14 billion to shareholders as dividends. Note, the firm's dividend has increased every year, from $1.84 in 2008 to $2.56 in 2010.
  3. Spent $2 billion on acquisitions, increasing the firm's market share around the world and taking full control of some joint ventures and partially owned subsidiaries.

The risks
As with all investments, there are dangers to face. Philip Morris generates 40% of its sales in the European Union. Economic weakness and increasing unemployment there has led to people smoking less. Also a risk, the company is highly leveraged, with a debt/equity ratio of 3.2:1. The company's cash flow is more than enough to handle all interest payments, but it is still something to be aware of. The company has litigation risk, although the industry has dealt with that for years.

I'm buying $1,000 worth of shares of Philip Morris tomorrow. At its current price, the company isn't particularly cheap, but its status as a market leader with a solid dividend will make Philip Morris a long-term winner for years to come.

This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series, where we give some of our most promising stock analysts cold, hard cash to manage on the Fool's behalf. We'd like you to track our performance and benefit from these real-money, real-time free stock picks. See all of our Rising Star analysts (and their portfolios).

Dan Dzombak can be found on his Twitter account: @DanDzombak. He owns shares of Philip Morris and Altria. Philip Morris International is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection. The Fool owns shares of Altria and Philip Morris International. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (19)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2011, at 3:18 PM, trenton1ryan wrote:

    That's only 15.76 shares...not that the amount matters.

    The debt bothers me too. It'd be nice to see that ratio come down...though they'd be idiots not to have refin'd during zirp, so...

    You're recommending it a buy as it basically overbought too. It's doubled since 2/09, and will likely hit $65-69 before a signicant pullback, so not a ton of upside w/out some type of correction or at least consolidation to come (imo of course).

    A rec in the $50s would have been better, but hindsight and all....

    Still, I agree with your rec fwiw. Unless it's solely div income and probable div growth one is after, I'd chance and wait for a better price or DCA your way in :)

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