Cigarette and tobacco products maker Altria Group (MO) is writing down its multi-billion-dollar investment in e-cigarette maker Juul by a third amid ongoing controversy surrounding the health and safety of vaping products.
In its quarterly earnings report released on Thursday, Altria said it recorded a $4.5 billion pretax charge to cut its $12.8 billion stake in Juul made a year ago, citing the Trump administration's plans to remove flavored e-cigarettes from the market, as well as e-cigarette bans that cities, states and countries are putting into effect.
The announcement came as the Richmond, Va.-based company reported third-quarter earnings and sales that beat analysts' forecasts amid strong demand for its traditional tobacco products as well as smokeless products like IQOS, a similar type of heated tobacco device.
For the third quarter, Altria posted a net loss of $2.6 billion, or $1.39 a share, vs. earnings of $1.9 billion, or $1.03 a share, in the comparable year-earlier quarter. Folding in its Juul write-down, the company posted adjusted net earnings of $1.19 a share vs. an adjusted $1.08 a share a year ago.
Analysts polled by FactSet had been expecting earnings of $1.15 a share. Sales grew 0.3% to $6.9 billion, "primarily due to higher net revenues in the smokeless products segment," the company said.
Altria invested $12.8 billion for a 35% stake in Juul late last year, valuing the e-cigarette start-up at $38 billion. Since then, Juul has been engulfed in a plume of controversy, being largely blamed for fueling the teen vaping epidemic.