Let's be clear from the outset: If you bought Altria's (NYSE: MO ) stock looking for heady growth, then you bought the wrong stock.
The company, which now focuses on the U.S. market after spinning out Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM ) , is all about milking the lucrative, but stagnant, market for cigarettes and kicking its prodigious cash flow back out to shareholders. The stock's current 5.6% dividend says a lot about why you might like to have this stock in your portfolio.
With that in mind, investors were disappointed with Altria's second-quarter earnings report. Although the reported bottom line looked truly ugly, the steep year-over-year decline simply reflected a previously announced one-time charge. Back that out, and voila! -- profit per share matched estimates.
Why so blue, then?
Cigarette volume for the quarter fell 0.7%, with a 7.8% decline in non-Marlboro premium brands and a 15.5% drop in discount brands offsetting a 1.1% year-over-year increase in Marlboro volume. However, overall cigarette revenue -- net of excise taxes -- increased 3.6% from last year.
Though not nearly the contributor to Altria's bottom line as cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products also showed positive momentum. Revenue after excise taxes climbed 3.9% on the strength of an 8.6% year-over-year increase in Copenhagen volume. Skoal wasn't looking quite as hot during the quarter, as volumes slipped 4.5%.
Throw that all together with the smaller cigar and wine divisions, and you get to the $0.53 in earnings per share -- a 6% increase from the second quarter of 2010. That doesn't sound so bad to me.
So why are investors sour? In the earnings report, management reaffirmed its full-year earnings outlook, basically saying, "Yes, the first half was better than we originally thought, but that doesn't mean that the full year will be." It's expected that inventory that retailers have built up will be sold off during the third quarter, which will probably lead to softer sales in the months ahead.
Are Altria investors missing the forest for the trees? I'd say so. The reason to own Altria's stock is to take advantage of the compounding magic of dividends over the course of years, not to go bonkers over the growth (or lack thereof) in one quarter.
Smoke 'em if you got 'em?
Of course, anyone thinking about buying Altria should be pretty stoked at any short-termism that causes price declines -- it only improves future returns. I don't think Altria is the best bargain out there, but I do hink that anyone buying the stock today will be very satisfied with returns in the years ahead.