Updated from 10:48 a.m. EDT
sent a message to the markets Wednesday that the considerable legal and competitive threats it faces shouldn't imperil the stock's fat yield.
The former Philip Morris announced it will pay out about $81 million more a quarter to shareholders after raising its quarterly dividend by 4 cents to 68 cents.
The 6.3% increase is at the high end of analyst forecasts for a company grappling with the possibility of having to hoist a $12 billion bond in order to appeal a massive false-advertising judgment in Illinois.
The 68-cent dividend comes out to nearly $1.4 billion a quarter. That's a good chunk of the $2.4 billion in earnings the company posted in the second quarter and a high price to pay to maintain an image of solidity in the face of a tight cigarette market and renewed legal risk. Second-quarter earnings were down from last year's $2.6 billion.
The new dividend implies a yield over its roughly $40 stock of 6.8%, making it the highest-yielding component of the
30. The increase follows a 20% dividend increase announced Tuesday by
, a boost that, while higher than expected, only put about $7 million more a quarter in Altria's coffers thanks to its 50% ownership stake in the food company.
The robust increase in Altria's payout, coming as it traditionally does on the last Wednesday of August, is intended to highlight the company's faith in its product line despite the encroaching threat of discount cigarettes and the aforementioned legal woes.
The company has warned of dire consequences if Illinois' Supreme Court fails to strike down the bonding requirement, which came in a case in which Altria's Philip Morris unit was accused of deceiving smokers about the health benefits of "light" cigarettes.
Altria closed Wednesday at $40.28 on the
New York Stock Exchange
. The new dividend is payable Oct. 9 to stockholders of record Sept. 15.