Unfortunately, Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) stinks right now. Year-to-date, the MO stock price is down nearly 15%, and given the broader ugliness in the markets, I’m expecting further pain. We must also acknowledge that as a “vice stock,” Altria has significant headwinds.
Nevertheless, the time to go contrarian is approaching.
I know what you’re thinking: Altria stock gained only 9.2% last year. This is a tobacco firm, not a cryptocurrency! If the timing is off, shares could fall to even more ridiculous levels. And the upside could be limited as Altria is a longer-term dividend play, not a high-flying tech company.
Those directly bearish on MO stock will also point to smoking statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both adults and high-school students have sharply dropped their smoking habits.
Towards the end of the last century, nearly a quarter of American adults smoked. That trend went into freefall, hitting a possible record-low 16.8% in 2014. For high school students, the smoking rate cratered from 34.8% in 1999 to 15.7% in 2013.
The math is simple: fewer people smoking means less revenues for big tobacco firms. Moreover, fewer young people are smoking, which means limited future growth potential, and a morose outlook for the MO stock price.
Yet I wouldn’t write off Altria stock without looking deeper into the facts. For instance, teenagers are gravitating towards “digital smoking” or vaping. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teens are much more likely to vape than smoke. And while I believe more studies need to be done on this issue, at least some of these underaged vape users are switching over to the “analog” platform.
China, Trump, and E-Cigs are Tailwinds for MO stock
Obviously, banking on a young person’s impressionability towards cigarettes is a pretty dirty reason to invest in Altria stock. But the takeaway here is that the act of smoking something has never gone away.
We’re merely arguing over the platform.
I believe this dynamic will suit MO stock very well in the longer-term picture. While e-cigarettes or vaporizers are among the hot-ticket items today, they tend to be “exhibition” devices; hence, the stereotype of vaping enthusiasts blowing unbelievable emissions, or “clouds” as they’re known in the community.
But one of the issues with vaporizers is that they don’t quite replicate the authentic smoking experience. As a result, many smokers who transitioned to vaporizers often transition back to the real thing. Furthermore, most smokers desire a “throat hit,” or the sensation that nicotine delivers on the throat. Long story short, vaporizers also fail to live up to this experience satisfactorily.
Because several smokers prefer authenticity, the vaporizers’ vulnerabilities opens doors for Altria, and by logical deduction, MO stock. Altria, along with companies like Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM) and British American Tobacco PLC (ADR) (NYSE:BTI) have invested in their own line of e-cigarettes and vaporizers. Given their extensive knowledge in the field, they’re more likely to produce a safer alternative that’s satisfactory to smokers.
It’s worth noting that the current trade war between the Trump administration and China also plays into the hands of Altria stock. Almost all vaporizers, especially the cloud-making ones, are made in China. While a theoretical disruption on vaporizers would hurt both the tobacco and vaping industry, the former has massive resources. The latter does not.
Although it’s a bit forward looking, if this trade war intensifies, MO stock investors have a reason to smile.
Altria Stock Is a Smart Contrarian Play
I hate to use terms like “contrarian” because nowadays, it implies buying a stinking company because it’s cheap. A surprising number of rookie investors fail to consider that an embattled organization could fall further still.
But in my opinion, Altria stock is a genuinely smart, contrarian play. Last month, I included it in my seven blue-chip stocks to buy amid the sharp selloff. I stand by my position.
First, MO stock is a legacy investment that’s still extremely relevant today. Yes, the smoking subculture has changed dramatically, but smoking will probably never go away. And because it’s such an icon, albeit perhaps undesirable, Altria has the resources to outlast significant and multiple storms.
You should also consider that the changing consumer landscape isn’t necessarily bad news. Vaporizers have a long ways to go before they can convert smokers. Moreover, Altria could just as easily compete with this upstart industry. In some cases, such as delivering authentic tobacco experiences, Altria has the upper hand.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.