Smoking Puffs Altria

Domestic and international tobacco have big quarters.
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first-quarter earnings jumped 18% from a year ago, driven by strong cigarette sales in the U.S. and Europe and a one-time inventory push to a subsidiary in Italy.

The food and tobacco company earned $2.60 billion, or $1.25 a share, in the quarter, compared with earnings of $2.19 billion, or $1.07 a share, last year. On a continuing operations basis, the company earned $2.58 billion, or $1.24 a share, compared with $2.19 billion, or $1.06 a share, a year ago.

Analysts had been forecasting continuing earnings of $1.23 a share, according to Thomson First Call.

Altria said net revenue rose 8.7% from a year ago to $23.6 billion.

Most of the improvement came from the company's huge cigarette subisidiaries. Altria's domestic tobacco business had operating income of $1.04 billion in the most recent quarter, compared with $970 million a year ago, while international tobacco had operating income of $2.08 billion in the latest quarter, compared with $1.84 billion a year ago.

"Philip Morris USA delivered another quarterly increase in retail share, driven by Marlboro, and strong income growth," the company said. "In another difficult quarter for the entire cigarette industry in Western Europe, Philip Morris International posted widespread share gains and a 13.1% increase in income, which was enhanced by favorable currency and a one-time inventory sale to its new distributor in Italy."

Industry shipments of cigarettes actually declined 9.6% in Italy, due to a tax-driven price increase and recently enacted smoking restrictions. Nevertheless, Phillip Morris' cigarette volume in Italy rose 28.3% in the first quarter, reflecting a one-time inventory sale of 4 billion units to its new distributor, Logista, and "the favorable timing of shipments."