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Why Altria Stock Dropped Today

By Steve Symington - Jan 30, 2020 at 3:24PM

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With legal challenges mounting for JUUL, the tobacco juggernaut took a huge impairment charge and reduced its targets for earnings growth.

What happened

Shares of Altria Group (MO 0.27%) were down 6% as of 2:15 p.m. EST Thursday, after the tobacco giant issued disappointing quarterly results.

So what

More specifically, Altria's fourth-quarter 2019 revenue increased 0.3% to $4.802 billion (after accounting for excise taxes), translating to a 7.4% increase in adjusted earnings to $1.02 per share. Analysts, on average, were expecting roughly the same per-share earnings, but on higher revenue of $4.88 billion.

Altria also recorded a staggering $4.1 billion noncash pre-tax impairment charge related to its investment in JUUL during the quarter -- a consequence of the growing number of legal cases against the e-cigarette maker.

Altria headquarters building with the company sign and logo in front


Nonetheless, Altria CEO Howard Willard insisted that the company's "core tobacco businesses delivered outstanding performance in 2019," noting that the company not only beat its $575 million target for reducing costs this year, but also raised its dividend for the 54th time in the past five decades.

Now what

"Despite the unexpected challenges related to our investment in JUUL, which led to impairment charges and reported losses, we made significant progress advancing and building our noncombustible business platform with the launch of IQOS and completion of the on! transaction," Willard added. "We enter 2020 with continued focus on harm reduction."

For the full year of 2020, Altria expects adjusted earnings per share of $4.39 to $4.51, up 4% to 7% from 2019 and roughly in line with most investors' expectations.

Looking further ahead, however, Altria also lowered its targets for compound annual growth in adjusted earnings per share from 2020 through 2022 to be in the range of 4% to 7% (down from 5% to 8% previously), due to its expectation for no equity earnings from JUUL in that period.

Given that tempered outlook and Altria's relative underperformance to end 2019, it's no surprise to see shares falling hard today as investors absorb the news.

Steve Symington has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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