Altria Beats 1Q Profit Expectations

NEW YORK (AP) -

Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. reported a lower first-quarter profit because of debt costs, but the adjusted results still topped Wall Street expectations on a mix of rising cigarette prices and shipments.

The company’s net income fell 13.4 percent to just under $1.02 billion, or 52 cents per share, while revenue rose 5.2 percent to $5.8 billion.

Adjusted for special items, the company said it earned 63 cents per share. Analysts polled by FactSet had expected profit of 62 cents per share.

Revenue, adjusted for excise taxes, was $4.27 billion, beating forecasts for $4.13 billion.

Cigarette shipments in the U.S. rose 1.6 percent to about 29.2 billion cigarettes, led by its Marlboro brand, which marked a 1.2 percent boost in volume to 25.1 billion cigarettes. Marlboro’s retail share of the market rose slightly to 44 percent.

Shipments of smokeless-tobacco brands such as Copenhagen and Skoal rose 2.7 percent and its market share grew to 54.9 percent.

The premium Marlboro brand has been under pressure from lower-priced cigarette brands, along with tax hikes, smoking bans, and a general stigmatization of smoking. Meanwhile, alternatives such as e-cigarettes are starting to gain some ground in the market while the industry expects the smoking decline to continue.

Altria’s Nu Mark segment began shipping its next generation e-cigarette in April.

The company also owns a wine business and has a voting stake in brewer SABMiller.

Altria reaffirmed its full-year profit outlook of $2.75 to $2.80 per share.

In trading Thursday, Altria shares rose 23 cents to $52.35. The shares have risen more than 6 percent so far this year.