The Best Philip Morris International, Inc. Headlines in 2015

The international tobacco giant worked through tough times well during the year.

Dan Caplinger
Dan Caplinger
Dec 27, 2015 at 9:35AM
Consumer Goods

Philip Morris research facility. Image source: Philip Morris International.

The tobacco industry has given long-term shareholders big returns on their investment, and Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) has done a good job of following in the footsteps of its industry peers in the short time it has been a separate company. Even though the global tobacco giant has dealt with its share of challenges in 2015, several pieces of good news helped continue Philip Morris' track record of growth. Let's look more closely at Philip Morris International's best headlines in 2015.

Philip Morris' Indonesian unit offers rights issue
Philip Morris International came into 2015 owning more than 98% of indirect subsidiary PT HM Sampoerna, which does business in Indonesia. The limited float of less than 2% of Sampoerna's shares for trading in the public stock market in Indonesia hasn't been a major concern in the past, but early last year, the Indonesian Stock Exchange proposed a new rule that would require publicly traded companies to have a float of at least 7.5%.

In order to comply, Philip Morris agreed to have Sampoerna make a rights offering, giving certain investors the right to purchase shares of Sampoerna at a fixed price slightly above where the stock had traded immediately prior to the offering. The total net proceeds from the rights offering amounted to about $1.4 billion, which Sampoerna said it would use for general corporate purposes. Following the rights offering, Philip Morris International owned a 92.5% interest in Sampoerna, allowing it to remain its dominant stake in the Indonesian subsidiary while complying with the regulation going forward.

Philip Morris increases dividend by 2%
Philip Morris has had a strong track record of raising its dividends since it went public in 2008, having implemented annual dividend hikes that in several cases amounted to double-digit percentage increases. Yet the unprecedented strength of the U.S. dollar has had a huge impact on Philip Morris International's revenue and earnings, and the currency hit led many to fear that the tobacco giant might choose not to give shareholders an increase in their quarterly payouts during 2015.

In September, Philip Morris chose to split the difference, raising its dividend by just 2% to $1.02 per share on a quarterly basis. The small increase reflected the pressure that Philip Morris has seen on its bottom line and was sensitive to the desire to keep the company's payout ratio from rising much further. At the same time, though, Philip Morris made it clear that dividend increases are a priority for the company. Even as it has suspended stock buybacks temporarily, Philip Morris believes that once the currency-related headwinds stop buffeting the company's financials, it should be able to return to a more shareholder-friendly approach going forward.

Philip Morris expands e-cigarette partnership with Altria
Finally, Philip Morris and former parent Altria Group (NYSE:MO) announced in July that they would expand their agreement on e-cigarettes. Altria and Philip Morris had first joined forces in 2013, with Altria giving Philip Morris the right to sell Altria e-cigarette brands internationally while Philip Morris allowed Altria the right to see heat-not-burn products in the U.S. market.

The expanded relationship will involve joint research, development, and technology sharing going forward. The hope is that the two companies will be able to create a new generation of electronic cigarettes as well as producing verifiable claims about hoped-for health-related advantages of e-cigarettes compared to traditional tobacco use. Given the long history that Altria and Philip Morris have, it's reasonable to expect that the partnership will bear fruit for years to come.

Philip Morris has done well in 2015, despite having some hurdles to overcome in its fundamental business. With these three news items helping to push it forward, Philip Morris International is in a good position to continue to grow in 2016 and beyond.