This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series.
Despite rigorous advertising campaigns, smoking bans, and increased education on the terrible effects of smoking, tobacco producers have managed to perform pretty darn well in the markets.
In fact, over the past five years, the major cigarette producers have straight out crushed the market. While the broad index has been relatively flat or negative, Altria
Not too shabby for a group of companies that are constantly fighting an uphill battle.
How soon can it end?
Companies like Altria have a pretty diverse range of products, including the leading market share cigarette brand, Marlboro, along with Parliament and Virginia Slims (not to mention its smokeless products and premium wine selection). Despite an overall contraction in demand for cigarettes in the U.S., Altria has been able to increase its market share and has also been able to pass along tax hikes to consumers, resulting in higher operating income for the company. Add to that a sweet 6.2% dividend yield, and it's no wonder this company is an investment favorite and has done so well over the past half-decade.
But we're not here to talk about Altria; rather, I'd like to point out a potential short opportunity with Lorillard. The company is in the middle of a major battle for what could end up being the make-or-break moment for the future of its brand and its survivorship. Though not as popular as the other cigarette producers, Lorillard markets its flagship menthol product, Newport, and has the leading menthol product in the U.S. That all could change, though -- and rather fast.
This week, a special FDA committee is meeting to discuss the data regarding menthol cigarettes. In March, it will decide whether to ban menthols altogether, a decision that could end up being a major blow to Lorillard. Similar to Altria, Lorillard has seen increased market share -- but mostly with its Newport brand, which continues to gain traction among minorities and young people.
Should the FDA decide to ban menthol cigarettes, it would leave the company with a rather meek-looking portfolio. Lorillard's other brands include Kent, True, Maverick, and Max. Smoker or non-smoker, I can imagine if you're like me, you probably haven't seen these brands around too much. Simply put, Altria's Marlboro and Reynolds's Camel take up a huge chunk of American smoking, and Lorillard doesn't have the brand presence to survive if menthols should take a hit.
The Foolish bottom line
In 2009, its Newport brand accounted for more than 90% of the company's sales. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be that comfortable with any company whose sales were primarily derived from one product, a product that could be seeing the end of its days draw near.
Is this a possible shorting candidate? I'll be watching it closely for my own real-money portfolio, and should I see further indicators that menthols are a thing of the past, you bet I'll be shorting this dinosaur.
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Jordan DiPietro owns no shares. Philip Morris International is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Altria and Philip Morris International. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.