There is a new entry to the lexicon of hipster jargon: "vape."
It means inhaling and exhaling the vapor created by an e-cigarette, a battery-powered device that heats liquid nicotine in a disposable cartridge. E-cigs are all the rage, and they pose a challenge to traditional cigarette makers.
They also offer a huge multi-year growth opportunity for investors.
The stock that benefits the most from the vaping craze is Philip Morris International (PM - Get Report) , which makes and markets cigarettes and other nicotine-containing products around the world. This year, in addition to double-digit capital appreciation, the stock also offers a high and sustainable dividend.
Philip Morris is scheduled to report first-quarter earnings before the market opens on Tuesday.
The analyst consensus is for the company's earnings to come in at $1.11 a share, compared with $1.16 a year earlier. This ostensibly modest earnings performance would actually show that Philip Morris is weathering headwinds such as a strong dollar and sluggish European economies.
E-cig revenue is showing gains not seen by the tobacco industry since the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s, when the "Don Drapers" of the era chain-smoked almost anywhere they wanted.
E-cigs got a big boost this week, amid new reports that their use continued to rise last year among teenagers and preteens in the United States. But at the same time, the data assuaged concerns that e-cigs are serving as a gateway to hook kids on traditional cigarettes, which are more harmful.
Vaping also is trendy with the millennial demographic sought by consumer brand companies, especially as younger people reject traditional cigarette smoking in droves. The upshot: a new generation of users is rapidly adopting e-cigs, which puts the devices onto a long-term growth trajectory.
One of the best ways to make money is to invest in companies that are tapped into accelerating trends, and e-cig play Philip Morris fits the description.
The overall use of e-cigs has boomed since they first hit the market in the mid-2000s. Indeed, their popularity has risen so quickly, federal regulators and scientists studying their health effects have scrambled to keep up.
Final rules from the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco products, are imminent.
Since 2008, the number of U.S. "vape shops" has increased to about 8,500, and sales of electronic cigarettes and ancillary supplies reached $3.5 billion, according to analysts at Wells Fargo.
Supplies include vaporizers, e-liquids, e-cigarettes and e-hookahs.
Battery powered e-cig devices mimic smoking by applying a heating element that vaporizes nicotine-infused liquid. E-cigs are odorless, which means that they can be enjoyed in public places, and they are less expensive than traditional cigarettes, largely because they aren't taxed.
And so far, science has ruled that e-cigs aren't harmful, though only time will tell whether that verdict is definitive.
The explosion of e-cigs has spawned a host of small-cap, entrepreneurial companies in the industry, akin to the dynamic unfolding in the medical marijuana industry. But many of these companies are poorly capitalized penny stocks, and they face an inevitable shakeout.
That is why the best e-cig stock is Philip Morris, a familiar name and also a multi-billion-dollar blue-chip behemoth with a high dividend.
Based in New York with a market capitalization of more than $154 billion, Philip Morris continues to expand into developing nations where an ascendant middle class covets the flashy Western consumer brands that seem synonymous with "the good life." Chief among those brands is the company's iconic Marlboro cigarettes.
However, as anti-smoking laws take hold in emerging nations, especially in cigarette-loving countries such as China and Russia, Philip Morris is seguing to e-cigs, which entail less regulatory oversight and give the company greater traction with a younger demographic.
Philip Morris started selling e-cigs in 2014, using existing technology that it has since been perfecting. The company has introduced a "new and improved" e-cig that heats tobacco instead of liquid and doesn't require batteries.
To be sure, the strong dollar weighs on U.S.-based exporters such as Philip Morris, but the problem should prove ephemeral as Europe gets back on its feet this year due to monetary stimulus from the European Central Bank.
Meanwhile, the growing popularity of e-cigs is a major tailwind that shows no signs of abating. Philip Morris and Altria, an international cigarette and table wine producer, from which Philip Morris spun off in 2008, are selling e-cigs in partnership.
Philip Morris has exclusive rights to sell Altria's e-cigs outside the United States, whereas Altria has exclusive rights in the United States to sell other Philip Morris-manufactured tobacco products.
Philip Morris also is a great income stock, with a robust dividend yield of 4.07%. The company increased quarterly dividends last year by 2%, to $1.02, from $1. Since the spin-off with Altria, Philip Morris has boosted its quarterly dividend by 121.7%.
With a trailing 12-month price-to-earnings ratio of 22.57, Philip Morris is reasonably valued compared with its industry (22.70). The stock trades at about $99, and though the median one-year analyst price target doesn't show much of a gain, it is $115 on the high end, which would represent a gain of 15.27%.
With a strong balance sheet, proven management and a vast global footprint, Philip Morris is the safest way to profit from e-cig growth, as traditional cigarette use declines. Instead of letting e-cigs eat its lunch, Philip Morris is pivoting to co-opt the e-cig phenomenon.
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