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The World Is Big Enough for Philip Morris

By Colleen Paulson - Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 11:29PM

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Philip Morris delivers earnings growth despite organic volume decline.

News flash: The world has not yet become a smoke-free zone.

Those who follow Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM) are fully aware that folks are still smoking in the U.S. and abroad. Volume growth may not be gangbusters, but like kissing cousin Altria (NYSE: MO), Philip Morris continues to succeed, as its fourth-quarter earnings indicate.

Fourth-quarter revenue increased by 4.8%. Gross profit grew by 8.8%, driven by a decline in cost of sales as Philip Morris continues a series of cost-reduction programs. Earnings per share increased by 20%, to $0.96, with a 15.1% increase in net earnings.

Overall cigarette volume grew by 3.1% for the quarter, but volume excluding acquisitions declined by 5.1%. Continuing on recent economic trends and excise tax increases, volume declined throughout the EU, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. However, Asian volume grew by a whopping 24.1% and Latin American/Canadian volume increased by 2.4%, with acquisitions and trade inventory movement fueling growth.

Philip Morris indicated that global pricing power contributed toward quarterly revenue gains, attributing $580 million of quarterly revenue to pricing increases. Philip Morris isn't alone in levering price increases, and it would seem to have more pricing power than other consumer products companies.

Philip Morris International shareholders should feel confident right now. The stock price is lingering near its 52-week high. The company continues to increase quarterly dividends (bumping them by 10.3% last year), and we all know how important consistent dividend increases are as part of a long-term investing strategy. Philip Morris also bought back 18.6 million shares at a price of $1.1 billion during its fourth quarter as part of a three-year, $12 billion repurchase program.

British American Tobacco (NYSE: BTI), Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI), and Lorillard (NYSE: LO) are trying to make up ground on the Marlboro Man's buddies, Philip Morris USA (aka Altria) and Philip Morris International. But Marketing 101 principles tell us that a strong brand name still means something to consumers. Perhaps more importantly, though, the past few quarters have demonstrated that both the domestic and global Marlboro Men still know a thing or two about how to run a successful company.

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Fool contributor Colleen Paulson does not hold positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. Philip Morris International is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. The Fool owns shares of Altria and Philip Morris International. For more investing strategies, take a look at the Motley Fool's newsletters via a 30-day free trial. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Altria Group, Inc. Stock Quote
Altria Group, Inc.
$45.47 (-0.31%) $0.14
Philip Morris International Inc. Stock Quote
Philip Morris International Inc.
$100.13 (-0.37%) $0.37
Reynolds American Inc. Stock Quote
Reynolds American Inc.
Lorillard, LLC Stock Quote
Lorillard, LLC

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