Earnings season is upon us, and soon, tobacco giants Altria Group (MO -0.13%) and Philip Morris International (PM -0.89%) will report their quarterly results. Investors who follow the industry are always curious whether the international business of Philip Morris has better prospects than the domestically focused Altria, and the greater diversification under Altria's corporate umbrella also makes for interesting comparisons.
Let's take a closer look at Altria Group and Philip Morris International to see how they've done in the past with their earnings and what investors are expecting from them in their coming releases.
Which has more earnings momentum: Altria or Philip Morris?
Looking back at their previous results, both Altria and Philip Morris have done their best to make the most of their respective opportunities. In Altria's most recent quarter, the company posted a 6% rise in revenue, but even more impressive was its 20% boost in net income. Altria's smokeable products division, which is its largest and includes its key Marlboro cigarette franchise, produced revenue growth of more than 5%, and notably, cigarette shipments climbed by 1.2%. Overall, Altria maintained its stranglehold over the U.S. market, posting market share of 51.4% in cigarettes. Smokeless products and the Altria wine segment saw sales climb at an even faster pace, and the success of the Copenhagen smokeless tobacco brand, Ste. Michelle wines, and the company's stake in beer giant SABMiller has bolstered Altria's overall profitability.
For Philip Morris, though, maximizing its potential has been harder. In its most recent quarter, revenue fell 8%, sending net income down a steeper 15% and missing estimates. The primary culprit was the strong dollar. Currency impacts wiped out what would have been a 2.4% rise in sales and a small gain in earnings per share. Yet some other aspects of Philip Morris' business showed weakness, including a 1.4% drop in overall cigarette shipment volumes. Markets in Asia were particularly weak, offsetting relative strength in the Latin America and Canada segment.
What's ahead for Altria and Philip Morris?
Looking to the future, both Altria and Philip Morris face some uncertainties. Philip Morris predicted in its last report that its full-year earnings would be better than expected, posting guidance of $4.40 to $4.50 per share. However, that updated guidance came also entirely from the temporary reversal of the strength in the U.S. dollar. Because the U.K. vote to leave the European Union has led to renewed strength in the dollar against major European currencies, it's unclear whether Philip Morris will be able to make good on its newest projections. Moreover, the tobacco company still sees volumes falling 2% to 2.5% for the year, and regulatory issues that are hitting the international cigarette market could have further downward pressure on earnings.
Altria hasn't made any major changes to its guidance in recent months, sticking with its original forecast of between $3 and $3.05 per share. That would represent growth of about 7% to 9% in Altria's bottom line, and that's consistent with its long-term targets. One wildcard for Altria is the ongoing acquisition bid from Anheuser-Busch InBev for SABMiller, with the beer giant having gotten approval from the South African regulatory agency in charge of antitrust issues at the end of last month. Unfortunately, because the deal was denominated in British pounds, the Brexit-induced drop in the pound's value will mean Anheuser-Busch will get SABMiller at a lower price in dollar terms. For Altria, though, most of the consideration for its stake SABMiller will come in the form of Anheuser-Busch shares, and that will keep Altria in the beer game with arguably even more growth potential in the years to come.
Look for Altria to keep outpacing Philip Morris
Right now, Altria has more momentum and better prospects than Philip Morris in producing strong earnings. That doesn't mean the international company's longer-term prospects are poor, but it will be more of a surprise if Philip Morris can outperform Altria this quarter. That makes Altria the better bet for this earnings season.