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Earnings Preview: Reynolds American

By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) â¿¿ Reynolds American Inc., the second-biggest U.S. cigarette company, should give investors some insight into its premium Camel brand and its lower-priced Pall Mall brand when it releases its fourth-quarter and full-year results before the stock markets open Tuesday.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Americans are buying fewer cigarettes as they face rising taxes and greater smoking bans, health concerns and social stigma, prompting most tobacco companies to raise prices and cut costs to bolster profits. But the decline in cigarette volumes industrywide has led to heavy promotional activity by the nation's largest tobacco companies.

Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American said those dynamics drove its cigarette volumes down nearly 7 percent to 17.4 billion cigarettes in the third quarter, compared with an estimated total industry volume decline of 2.7 percent.

Its R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. subsidiary sold 8 percent less of its Camel brand 1 percent more of the Pall Mall brand. Camel's market share remained flat at 8.5 percent of the U.S. market, while Pall Mall's market share grew 0.1 percentage points to 8.7 percent.

The company has promoted Pall Mall as a longer-lasting and more affordable cigarette as smokers weather the weak economy and high unemployment, and has said half the people who try the brand continue using it. Still Reynolds has faced pressure from its competitors looking to attract more smokers looking to save money.

Reynolds American also sells Natural American Spirit cigarettes, and Kodiak and Grizzly smokeless tobacco.

Analysts pay close attention to the company's smokeless tobacco products â¿¿ a segment of the tobacco industry that's growing and becoming increasingly competitive as companies fight the decline in cigarette sales. Volume for its smokeless tobacco brands rose nearly 7 percent in the third quarter compared with a year ago. The company's smokeless tobacco brands had 32.2 percent of the U.S. retail market, which is tiny compared with cigarettes.

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