Altria Group (MO)

Q3 2011 Earnings Call

October 27, 2011 9:00 am ET


Michael E. Szymanczyk - Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of Executive Committee and Chairman of Philip Morris USA Inc

Brendan McCormick - Vice President of Communications

Howard A. Willard - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President


Michael Felberbaum - Associated Press

David J. Adelman - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Christopher Growe - Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., Inc., Research Division

Judy E. Hong - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Nik Modi - UBS Investment Bank, Research Division

Bonnie Herzog - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division



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Good day, and welcome to the Altria Group 2011 Third Quarter Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Brendan McCormick, Vice President, Investor Relations for Altria Client Services. Please go ahead, sir.

Brendan McCormick

Good morning, and thank you for joining our call. This morning, we will only be discussing Altria's 2011 business results for the third quarter and through the end of September, and will not be discussing the status of tobacco litigation. Our remarks contain forward-looking and cautionary statements and projections of future results, and I direct your attention to the forward-looking and cautionary statement section at the end of our earnings release for the review of the various factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from projections. For a detailed review of Altria's business results, please review the earnings release that is available on our website,

Altria reports its financial results in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Today's call will contain various operating results on both a reported and on an adjusted basis, which excludes items that affect the comparability of reported results. Descriptions of these measures and reconciliations are included in today's earnings press release and are available on our website. In addition, comparisons discussed in this conference call are to the same prior-year period unless otherwise stated.

Now it gives me great pleasure to introduce Mike Szymanczyk, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Altria Group Inc.

Michael E. Szymanczyk

Thanks, Brendan, and good morning everyone. Altria made significant progress in the third quarter on its plans to continue delivering strong returns to shareholders. The company increased its dividends, 7.9%. It completed its previously announced $1 billion share repurchase program. It exceeded its goal of achieving $1.5 billion of cost reductions, and it grew its third quarter adjusted diluted EPS 3.7%. And our consumer products businesses continue to expand their adjusted operating margins.

For the first 9 months of 2011, adjusted diluted EPS grew 4.8% and includes a $0.01 per share charge for the judgment payed in the Scott case.

In the cigarette segment, Philip Morris U.S.A. delivered strong third quarter adjusted operating income margin growth despite difficult comparisons which were impacted by trade inventory depletions in 2011, and strong operating companies income growth in Marlboro retail share performance in 2010. PM U.S.A.'s reported cigarette volume declined 9% for the third quarter as the trade depleted inventories that had been built in the first half of this year. After adjusting for trade inventories, PM U.S.A. estimates its cigarette shipment volume declined approximately 5%. Marlboro's third quarter retail share was negatively impacted by relative changes in manufacturers' promotional activities. Following PM U.S.A.'s July 2011 list price increase, Marlboro's retail price increased more than major competitive premium and discount brands as PM U.S.A. focused on growing its adjusted operating companies income margins.

As we have stated before, PM U.S.A.'s objective in the cigarette category is to maximize income growth while maintaining modest retail share momentum on Marlboro. PM U.S.A. balances these objectives over time rather than focusing on quarter-to-quarter income and share results that may fluctuate on a short-term basis due to the timing of Marlboro's new products, and brand building initiatives as well as competitive activity and trade inventory dynamics. PM U.S.A. is willing to accept short-term negative retail share comparisons on Marlboro, as it balances these objectives. We remain confident in Marlboro's brand strength as its equity, loyalty rates and adult demographics remain strong.

In the smokeless products segment, USSTC delivered strong adjusted operating companies income and margin growth driven by Copenhagen and Skoal. In the cigars segment, John Middleton achieved double-digit growth in net revenues and operating companies income and delivered strong adjusted operating companies income margin growth in the third quarter. In the Wine segment, Ste. Michelle delivered excellent financial and volume results as it continue to focus on improving its mix to higher-margin premium products. Overall, we are pleased with our business results through the first 9 months of the year which were achieved in a difficult economic environment marked by intense competition in our tobacco businesses. We believe that we are on track to achieve solid adjusted earnings per share results for the full year.

We are reaffirming our adjusted diluted EPS guidance as we expect to deliver EPS growth in the range of 6% to 9% for the full year, or $2.01 to $2.07 off an adjusted base of $1.90 per share in 2010. This adjusted EPS guidance includes $0.01 per share charge related to the Scott case. We also expect to achieve reported diluted EPS in the range of $1.60 to $1.66 per share.

In the third quarter, Altria completed its previously announced share repurchase and cost reduction programs. Yesterday, Altria's board approved 2 new initiatives to build on this year's progress and support our goal delivering average annual adjusted diluted EPS growth of 7% to 9% over time. First, the board authorized the new $1 billion share repurchase program as part of Altria's ongoing commitment to return cash to shareholders. Altria intends to complete this new program by the end of 2012, but the timing of such purchases depends upon marketplace conditions and other factors. And the program is subject to the discretion of the board

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