Universal Corp. (NYSE: UVV) can supply the raw product; Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI) can pretend with its Camel brand; China National Tobacco can claim victory in China. But there's only one King of Tobacco.

It's the maker of Marlboro (among other tobacco products). However, two sister companies share the brand -- Altria (NYSE: MO) in the U.S. and Philip Morris (NYSE: PM) internationally.

Let's settle this sibling rivalry and determine which is the better buy. Here's a tale of the tape:

Metric

Factor

Altria

Philip Morris International

Cheapness

(P/E ratio)

12.9

14.5

Growth

(5-year growth rate)

6.7%

9.2%

Operations

(net margin %)

20.2%

25.3%

Balance Sheet

(debt/equity ratio)

2.85

3.28

CAPS Rating

(scale of 1 to 5 stars)

****

 

Source: Capital IQ, a division or Standard & Poor's, Yahoo! Finance, and Motley Fool CAPS.

Round 1: Cheapness
Advantage: Altria. On a trailing basis, Altria beats its rival Philip Morris International. This advantage holds on a forward basis, too. On an absolute basis, both trade at reasonable multiples, factoring in their brand recognition and their litigation risk.

Round 2: Growth
Advantage: Philip Morris International. Growth here is the forward five-year EPS growth rate. Since the Marlboro brand already dominates domestically. Altria's brands have around a 50% market share, and it makes sense that growth is more heady internationally, where Philip Morris has a 16% market share.

Round 3: Operations
Advantage: Philip Morris International. The international unit produces a whopping $0.25 for every dollar of sales. Quite impressive by any standard.

Round 4: Balance sheet
Advantage: Altria. Both companies are highly levered, but they both also have the cash flows to back it up.

Round 5: CAPS rating
Advantage: Philip Morris International. The Motley Fool's CAPS community likes both stocks, but it gives Philip Morris International its highest rating -- five stars. You can get more information on each stock by clicking over to our CAPS area.

The numbers paint very similar pictures for Altria and Philip Morris International. Although Philip Morris International squeaks out a victory, investors who like one are very likely to like the other -- they were one company at one point, after all.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments box below.

Anand Chokkavelu owns shares of Altria and Philip Morris International. Philip Morris International is a Motley Fool Global Gains choice. The Fool has a disclosure policy.