Updated from 7:59 a.m. EDT
Wall Street's research community remained optimistic Monday that Philip Morris can avoid a bankruptcy filing despite being ordered for a second time to post a huge bond if it wants to appeal a verdict in a false-advertising case.
unit has warned that unless the decision is overruled, it "faces enormous financial uncertainty in the short term," and could default on the payments that back the tobacco-settlement bonds issued by many states.
On Friday, Madison County Circuit Court Judge Nicholas Byron ordered Philip Morris USA to post a $12 billion bond or face enforcement of the $10.1 billion judgment from the original trial, in which the company was found to have misled smokers about the dangers of "light" cigarettes.
The order was stayed for 60 days to give the company a chance to post the bond or ask the Illinois Supreme Court whether it should be reduced. Philip Morris said previously it can't come up with the $12 billion and warned the bond might push it into bankruptcy.
In a flurry of research notes, stock analysts remained cautiously optimistic a Supreme Court appeal would bear fruit for the tobacco giant.
"Judge Byron's earlier $6 billion bond requirement could mean that PM USA has shown adequate factual basis that it cannot meet the full bond amount," wrote Deutsche Bank. "Neither Illinois nor the U.S. Supreme Court have explicitly ruled on the constitutionality of forcing bankruptcy during appeal, but in our legal counsel's opinion, the day is edging closer and industry arguments are strong."
Citigroup Smith Barney said that Friday's ruling was already reflected in Altria's share price, which was recently down 85 cents, or 2%, to $39 in Instinet premarket trading.
"This news was not unexpected and as the judge was essentially mandated to reinstate the original amount by the Illinois Appellate Court in its earlier ruling," Citigroup said. "We still believe there is a chance that the Illinois Supreme Court could take the bonding issue in the next 60 days."
The latest ruling followed a successful jurisdictional challenge by plaintiffs in Illinois' Fifth District Appeals Court to Byron's April 14 decision to lower the bond to $6 billion.
"Unfortunately, Judge Byron today had no alternative in ordering the company to post a $12 billion bond based on the instructions he received from the Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court, even though he recognized that Philip Morris USA cannot post a bond in that amount and remain a viable business," Philip Morris USA said in a release.
"Philip Morris USA believes that the lower bond established earlier by Judge Byron, while onerous to the company, was and is sufficient to protect the financial interests of the class during an appeal and the company is optimistic the Illinois Supreme will agree," the company said.
Analysts at Prudential noted that the Illinois Supreme Court previously declined to step into the dispute, but said that could change in the current context.
"This time around, we believe that there is a strong probability that the Illinois Supreme Court will step into the matter, and suggest that the amount of the bond be reduced to a number that is non-bankruptcing to Philip Morris USA," Prudential wrote.