Tobacco Stocks Q3 Earnings Preview: The Big Four

by Jim Woods | October 16, 2013 12:20 pm

Cigarette185[1]I love tobacco stocks. Part of the reason why has to do with the fact that these companies make a product that people enjoy consuming. I’m also anything but politically correct, which makes me partial to companies I feel are unfairly targeted for vilification by health police types.

Of course, there are more traditional reasons to like certain tobacco stocks, including the basic metrics such as earnings, price and (naturally) dividend yield.

Beginning this week, and continuing through next week, we’ll get some clarity on earnings, as four of the largest tobacco stocks are set to report results.

Here’s a quick preview of each:

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Philip Morris International (PM)

Philip Morris NYSE:PM[3]Philip Morris (PM[4]) lights up the tobacco stocks earnings cavalcade when it reports results before the bell Thursday.

The company, which manufactures and sells cigarettes outside the U.S., is expected to report earnings of $1.45 per share. In the same quarter a year ago, Philip Morris earnings came to $1.32.

Year-to-date, PM shares are only slightly in the black, although investors have collected a dividend yield of 4.4% along the way. Earnings growth for PM over the past year has lagged other tobacco stocks, with growth of just 4.05% vs. an industry growth rate of 5.4%.

Given PM’s weakness for the past few months, I suspect the company will have to see a strong beat Thursday if shares are to finish the year in the black. And it’s hard to depend on PM’s ability to manage expectations, as quarterly earnings have missed in three of the past five quarters.

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Reynolds American (RAI)

Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI)[5]Next up in the tobacco stocks earnings procession is Reynolds American (RAI[6]), which reports before the bell on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

Analysts expecting RAI to report earnings of 86 cents per share, vs. 79 cents in the year-ago period.

Unlike PM, shares of the maker of Camel, Pall Mall and other cigarette brands have been on fire, with this leading tobacco stock up 22% in 2013.

Also, in May, RAI boosted its quarterly dividend by 4 cents a share to 63 cents to put the stock’s current yield at a very attractive 5%.

If Reynolds can log an earnings beat this quarter — a good possibility considering estimates have ticked up in the past couple months — look for RAI shares to continue smoking.

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Lorillard (LO)

dividend stocks, lo stock[7]Lorillard (LO[8]) — the maker of Newport brand cigarettes, and electronic cigarette brand Blu e-cigarettes — will report the following morning. LO is expected to come in with EPS of 81 cents, vs. 72 cents a year ago.

In terms of EPS growth this year, the company is way ahead of its peers, growing at 11.3%. LO shares have reflected that performance, up just more than 20% YTD, not to mention the 4.7% yield they’re throwing off.

Like RAI, analyst expectations for Lorillard earnings have crawled up by a penny since last quarter. An earnings beat next week would be LO’s fourth in as many quarters, and should provide ample momentum through year’s end.

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Altria Group (MO)

Altria (NYSE:MO)[9]Altria Group (MO[10]) is the final member of the tobacco stocks group to report — announcing earnings the morning of Thursday, Oct. 24 — and here analysts are anticipating EPS of 64 cents. A year prior, the company posted earnings of 58 cents.

Altria — the maker of the iconic Marlboro brand — has seen very strong share price performance, surging 13% year-to-date, though most of those gains came early in the year. The company also delivers for dividend players, as it offers a 5.4% yield.

Altria has received several analyst upgrades over the past few months, and back in September, MO boosted its full-year outlook, from an earnings range of $2.51-$2.56 for the current fiscal year to $2.57-$2.62. Both ranges were well ahead of the Wall Street consensus for $2.39.

While Altria stock has been listless for a few months, MO should bounce back from its small second-quarter earnings disappointment and put a positive surprise on the board. If so, that should give MO the fire it needs to exit its rut.

As of this writing, Jim Woods did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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