Proving that smoking stocks can be dangerous to your health, Philip Morris
Whether or not one regards the world's largest cigarette maker as a sin stock to avoid, the simple fiscal truth is the company had been a steady financial performer. Earnings grew like clockwork. Dividend hikes came with every passing year. It was recession-resilient, growing and paying out a juicy 6% yield. That's the dating scene equivalent of finding someone with good looks, a killer personality, and a meaty dowry to boot.
But cheaper imported smokes and higher state excise taxes have driven the conglomerate's tobacco market share down to just 49%. To get the country's butts back into its butts, Philip Morris will embark on some aggressive promotional campaigns. That may not sit well with anti-smoking groups, and it could be even harder for shareholders to swallow. Pouring more money into marketing will hurt margins in the near term.
Philip Morris thinks it will be able to kick this latest habit. Despite the current hiccup, it sees earnings climbing by 8% to 10% next year. Not only were analysts expecting the bottom line to move ahead by 12% in 2003, but that target comes off the 2002 mark now being talked down to profit growth of no more than 5%.
A few words of cautious optimism: Yes, the company is still growing its earnings. Yes, the stock's forward P/E ratio remains in single digits. Yes, the $2.56 a share it is paying out in dividends over the course of the year is a far better yield than the long bond. And while the overhang of tobacco litigation may keep this stock selling at a discount to the market's valuation, the value argument is pretty easy to make here. It can't -- cough, cough -- drag this way forever.