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Altria Swings to a Deep Loss in Q4

By Eric Volkman - Jan 30, 2020 at 5:13PM

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The company's investment in JUUL Labs is weighing heavily on results.

Altria Group (MO 1.15%) stock is taking it on the chin in late trading on Thursday, following a dispiriting earnings report.

The tobacco giant unveiled its fourth-quarter and full-year fiscal 2019 results, which showed that it booked revenues net of excise taxes of slightly over $4.80 billion in the former period. That was essentially unchanged from the Q4 2018 result. Much more dramatically, under GAAP standards Altria swung violently to a $1.8 billion ($1.00 per share) loss on the bottom line from a nearly $1.3 billion profit in the year-ago quarter.

Girl holding her nose in car while adult driver smokes.

Image source: Getty Images.

The loss was due largely to a $4.1 billion impairment charge on the value of Altria's investment in vape maker JUUL Labs. Altria said that "[t]his impairment is primarily due to the increased number of legal cases pending against Juul and the expectation that the number of legal cases against Juul will continue to increase."

The vaping segment in general has been under pressure of late due to fatalities associated with the use of such products, and growing concern over their effects on user health. Altria holds a 35% stake in JUUL Labs; in an earnings call regarding the latest results, CEO Howard Willard said he was "highly disappointed in the financial performance of the Juul investment."

Removing the impairment charge, plus other one-time items, from Altria's bottom line results in a non-GAAP (adjusted) per-share net profit of $1.02 for the quarter. That's broadly in line with analyst expectations. That top-line figure came in below the average prognosticator projection of $4.88 billion.

For the entirety of fiscal 2020, Altria believes it will post adjusted EPS of $4.39 to $4.51, which would top the 2019 result by 4% to 7%. 

Altria shares are currently unpopular; the consumer goods stock is trading down by over 4%. 


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