Altria Details Spinoff Plans

Philip Morris International will be let loose at the end of the first quarter.
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Altria Group (MO) - Get Report said the long-planned spinoff of its international tobacco unit will come near the end of the first quarter.

Details of the spinoff, which came in conjunction with Altria's report of a 26% decline in fourth-quarter profits, have been expected since the fall. The company

announced last year that it was spinning off the Philip Morris international division so the unit can better grow, given the tobacco regulatory hurdles and legal battles in the U.S.

Altria said Wednesday that the Philip Morris spinoff will take place on March 28. The company will distribute one Philip Morris share for each Altria share held as of the March 19 record date.

Cramer: Altria Is a Buy

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The company expects the stock to trade under the symbol "PM." Altria will retain its "MO" ticker symbol.

As previously announced, Louis Camilleri will step down as chairman and CEO of Altria to hold those titles at the new Philip Morris International. Current Philip Morris USA head Michael Szymanczyk will become the chairman and CEO of Altria Group.

Philip Morris International's board will include five members who will step down from the current Altria board. Altria will install four new directors.

"Today's announcement underscores our long-term commitment to build shareholder value," said Camilleri. "The PMI spin-off and related actions position our international and domestic tobacco businesses for future success as stand-alone companies with unique and formidable strengths, including leading brands, strong cash flow, experienced leadership and solid growth prospects."

Altria, whose brands include Marlboro, Parliament and Virginia Slims, has been seeking to dismantle itself as a conglomerate. The company spun off its 89% stake in

Kraft Foods

(KFT)

last year.

In the fourth quarter, Altria recorded net income of $2.19 billion, or $1.03 a share, down from $2.96 billion, or $1.40 a share, a year earlier. The year-earlier results were boosted by a gain from discontinued operations; excluding the effect of that gain, fourth-quarter earnings were down 9.1% from 2006.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected earnings of 97 cents a share for the latest quarter.

Altria's revenue rose 13.7% to $18.23 billion from $16.03 billion a year earlier.

For 2008, Altria expects earnings per share from continuing operations to grow 9% to 11% from $1.50 in 2007, excluding Philip Morris International.

Philip Morris International is expected to see 12% to 14% growth from a 2007 pro forma base of $2.78.

Shares of Altria recently were up 81 cents, or 1.1%, to $76.93.

This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.com.