Many U.S. investors see Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) simply as the global extension of the cigarette business that Altria Group (NYSE:MO) continues to run domestically. Looking at Philip Morris that way belittles the importance of the global tobacco giant, which has a presence in more than 180 markets around the world. There's a lot about Philip Morris that most investors don't know about, and the following five facts play a key part of the long-term investing thesis for the stock.
1. Philip Morris was a person.
Long before Philip Morris International had its IPO, the company's namesake stood tall at the beginning of Altria's history. In 1847, tobacconist Philip Morris opened a shop on Bond Street in London, at which he sold loose tobacco as well as pre-made cigarettes. It was Philip's son Leopold who went on to establish Philip Morris & Company in the late 19th century, which formed the foundation of everything that was to come for the tobacco giant over its 170-year history.
2. Philip Morris has six of the top 15 brands internationally.
Most investors know that Philip Morris has the rights to distribute the Marlboro brand of cigarettes around the globe, and Marlboro continues to hold No. 1 market share worldwide. Those outside the U.S. are more familiar with the other brands that Philip Morris has, some of which are even more popular than Marlboro in certain areas.
For instance, the mid-price L&M brand also started in the U.S., and over the course of its 64-year history, it has become the third-best selling international cigarette brand outside the U.S. and China. The premium Parliament brand also has a solid following internationally, especially in key former Soviet republics as well as Turkey, Japan, and Korea. Chesterfield, Bond Street, and the namesake Philip Morris brand also land among the 15 top sellers in the world. Breadth of product offerings is essential to ensure that those smokers who are looking for new brands have choices to which they can give their future loyalty.
3. Philip Morris sells a vapor-based e-cigarette.
Most of the attention on reduced-risk products for Philip Morris centers on its iQOS heated tobacco system, and for good reason. Successful tests of the product have led to a huge ramp-up in production capacity, and rollouts in new markets have accelerated in recent years.
But Philip Morris also has other non-traditional products. In 2015, the company launched Solaris, an e-vapor product it licensed from Altria. The product is a battery-powered device that makes a nicotine-containing vapor, and the initial launches in Spain and Israel have shown some promising signs. Philip Morris intends to look at many different avenues forward in its quest to go beyond traditional cigarettes.
4. Philip Morris employs a huge research team.
Philip Morris has pride in its push toward science and innovation, and it has dedicated large amounts of resources toward ensuring that it can stay at the cutting edge of its industry. Philip Morris employees more than 400 scientists, engineers, and technicians, spending more than $3 billion since 2008 toward the vision of coming up with new products that can offer smokers different ways to get a smoking experience.
In particular, Philip Morris hopes to find products that can satisfy smokers while avoiding some of the negative health effects of traditional cigarettes. The scientific claims that Philip Morris is able to make will serve as a key support for its initiatives going forward, especially in areas like its application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to have the iQOS system approved as a modified risk tobacco product. The company thinks that by moving toward products with less health risk, it can achieve improvements in public health without having to give up its business entirely.
5. Philip Morris has adopted many anti-smoking views.
Many tobacco companies have parroted language about the dangers of smoking, but Philip Morris' actions show a different attitude. The company's website acknowledges that cigarette smoking causes serious diseases and is addictive, describing the impact that a combination of factors, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, and residual particles from tobacco combustion has on health. It has gone so far as to say that even its cigarette alternatives aren't for those who haven't yet smoked, especially those who are under the minimum ages that many of its markets have set.
Philip Morris doesn't support all regulation, noting that efforts like plain packaging laws serve to diminish its efforts to differentiate its products on the basis of safety as well as quality of experience. What it wants is regulation based on science, where it believes it can use its competitive advantages to beat its rivals.
Philip Morris International is a colossus in the tobacco industry, and investors can count on the company to continue moving forward. Even with the secular decline in smoking continuing, Philip Morris can keep finding ways to boost its business in the future.