Why Altria Smoked Higher in 2012

As 2012 nears its end, now's a good opportunity to look at what happened throughout the year to the stocks you follow. If you know the important things that a company achieved, as well as any challenges it failed to overcome, then you can make a better decision about whether it really deserves a spot in your portfolio.

Today, I'll look at Altria (NYSE: MO  ) . The leader in domestic tobacco saw reasonably good stock performance, even as its underlying business suffered from significant challenges. With ongoing threats to the broader U.S. tobacco industry, Altria has had to work hard to keep itself moving higher. Below, you'll find more on what moved shares of Altria this year.

Stats on Altria

   

Year-to-date stock return

14%

Market cap

$65.9 billion

Revenue, past 12 months

$17.4 billion

Net Income, past 12 months

$3.91 billion

1-year revenue growth

5.9%

1-year net income growth

12.7%

CAPS rating

*****

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Can Altria keep lighting up its stock?
Altria continues to do what it's done for years: provide solid dividend growth and a relatively stable business. After surviving massive waves of litigation in the early 2000s, the stock roared higher, but having spun off its interests in Kraft Foods (Nasdaq: KRFT  ) and Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM  ) , the core U.S. tobacco business that remains doesn't have the growth potential the company once had.

Yet as Fool contributor Morgan Housel noted recently, Altria has found ways to succeed even with a consistently shrinking business. One way has been to focus on boosting internal performance, trying to reduce its workforce and cut unnecessary costs. Still, as smokers have suffered from the effects of the recession, they've moved away from such high-end products as Marlboro and similar premium offerings from competitor Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI  ) in favor of lower-cost discount options, with Lorillard's (NYSE: LO  ) Newport brand being a rare exception.

2012 also saw a big ramp-up in anti-smoking campaigns. Between the FDA seeking to regulate cigarette packaging, the CDC spending $54 million on an ad campaign to fight smoking, and local governments imposing new regulations on public smoking, Altria has had to deal with substantial headwinds.

In that light, Altria's share-price gains this year seem nothing short of phenomenal. Yet that's consistent with the stock's resilient history going back for decades.

Learn more
Altria has held up well in 2012, but how's it poised for next year. Find out whether Altria's a smart buy for 2013 by reading The Motley Fool's new premium research report on the tobacco giant. Simply click here now for full access.

Click here to add Altria to My Watchlist, which can find all of our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.


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