Global tobacco specialist Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) has performed exceptionally well since it became a separate company in 2008. Yet more recently, pressures from the strong U.S. dollar and its negative impact on foreign currency revenue and profits have slowed the pace of the company's growth, and Philip Morris has also had to deal with a tough regulatory environment that has seen several countries impose restrictions on the industry's freedom to market tobacco products in whatever manner they wish. Yet despite those pressures, Philip Morris still has some things that investors can look forward to in the near future that could help get the stock moving higher again. Let's look at three reasons Philip Morris International shares could rise.
1. The iQOS line of reduced-risk products has gotten off to a good start.
Philip Morris has seen the future of the tobacco industry, and it wants to make sure that it can survive what it sees as a downward trend in the popularity of cigarette smoking and replace its cigarette dominance with a lasting presence in the alternative products space. To that end, Philip Morris has made great efforts toward promoting its iQOS heat-not-burn technology, with HeatSticks that it believes have advantages over traditional cigarettes.
Early tests of the iQOS line have already shown promising results. In Japan, Philip Morris has said that it has built up a 2.7% market share with Marlboro e-cigarettes as of the end of June, and anecdotal evidence shows that the company is luring away smokers of competing traditional cigarette brands. Moreover, Philip Morris hasn't yet been able to fully meet demand for its e-cigarette products, and limited-edition iQOS products have fetched hundreds of dollars from Japanese consumers. If that trend continues -- and most industry experts see it doing so -- then Philip Morris could be smart in hitting the ground running by using the strength of its Marlboro brand as an entry point for consumers.
2. U.S. dollar strength is finally starting to wane.
For years, the strength of the U.S. dollar has hurt Philip Morris. The U.S.-based company has to measure its financial performance in dollars, and so when the foreign currency it receives as revenue and generates as profit in foreign countries becomes less valuable, it translates into fewer dollars, hurting results. In particular, long-term weakness in the euro and Japanese yen were especially damaging for Philip Morris, because it gets the majority of its sales from Europe and Asia.
However, in recent quarters, Philip Morris has seen currency impacts lessen. The second quarter of 2016 showed a hit of just $0.08 per share to the tobacco company's earnings due to the strong dollar, and a roughly $300 million reduction in sales amounted to about 4.5 percentage points of downward pressure on revenue growth. Those figures are substantial, but they nevertheless are much smaller than they were in the recent past. For instance, in the year-ago quarter, Philip Morris took a $0.33 per share reduction due to the strong dollar, and currency issues cost the company 23 percentage points of potential sales growth.
Philip Morris has boosted its guidance for the full year because of lessening currency pressures. The strong dollar might not go away entirely, especially if foreign economies keep struggling. For now, though, investors can hope that the company will be able to return to a more aggressive growth stance because of waning year-over-year gains in the value of the dollar against major foreign currencies.
3. Stock buybacks could return.
Investors like Philip Morris because of its generous policies in returning capital to shareholders. The company has a history of paying high dividend yields, and throughout much of its existence, it has also made extensive share repurchases to help bolster its stock price. However, Philip Morris abruptly suspended its buybacks, making no repurchases in 2015 and having made none so far in 2016.
Company executives explained that the strong dollar's impact on earnings was the primary reason for ending what had been extremely large buyback programs, including an $18 billion authorization from mid-2012 that was expected to last three years. With a choice between sustaining dividends and continuing the buyback, executives chose to make the dividend a priority.
Now that the dollar's negative impact has started to diminish, investors can expect renewed calls to restore buybacks. Although some believe that Philip Morris will instead offer larger dividend increases than the modest 2% rise it saw most recently, a partial return of buyback activity would also likely have a positive impact on the stock.
Philip Morris International has done a good job of keeping its stock moving in the right direction. If these three factors start contributing to its success, then the tobacco giant might well see its stock post even more impressive gains in the near future.