Altria Group to Outperform in 2010, Investors Say

RICHMOND, Va. ( TheStreet) -- Altria Group ( MO) will outperform this year against a group of large caps that shared ranks in hitting fresh 52-week highs this week, according to readers of TheStreet.

Altria, the parent of cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, touched a fresh 52-week high of $22.68 last Monday, and pushed the needle further to $22.78 on Tuesday. The stock closed at $22.35 on Friday.

At the start of the week, we asked our readers which of the five largest companies (by market cap) that touched fresh heights earlier this week would outperform in the second half of 2010. Voting against Siemens ( SI), McDonald's ( MCD), AstraZeneca ( AZN) and Deere ( DE), readers of TheStreet overwhelmingly agreed on Altria Group to the tune of 49% out of 860 voters.
Altria Group

The runner up was Deere, with 26.7% of the votes, followed by McDonald's with 12.8%, AstraZeneca with 6.3% and Siemens with 5.2%.

Altria -- a Richmond, Va.-based holding company -- posted higher-than-expected quarterly profits last month and raised its 2010 outlook as higher cigarette prices offset waning demand. Altria forecast full-year earnings in a range of $1.87 to $1.91 per share, in line with analysts' consensus call. Altria booked profits of $1.04 billion, or 50 cents per share, on revenue of $6.3 billion in its recent quarter.

Stephanie Link, director of research for TheStreet, named Altria a winner in the consumer staple sector last week, citing the stock's strong yield and total return.

As cigarette consumption in the U.S. wanes, sector players like Altria, Reynolds American ( RAI), Lorillard ( LO) and Philip Morris International ( PM) have increased smokeless tobacco products. Altria said its volume of smokeless products increased 9.2% to $182 million last quarter. Revenue in the smokeless segment increased 4.6% to $390 million.

-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York

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