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Marlboro Maker Cuts Profit Forecast As Smokers Swap To Cheaper Brands

By Donna Ahern
Marlboro Maker Cuts Profit Forecast As Smokers Swap To Cheaper Brands

Tobacco giant Altria Group recently cut its annual profit forecast as more smokers swapped its higher priced cigarettes for cheaper brands or smoking alternatives, sending the Marlboro maker's shares lower.

The company said it now expects adjusted profit of $4.91 to $4.98 per share this year, compared with a previous forecast of $4.89 to $5.03 per share.

Altria has been hiking prices of its traditional products to offset volume declines as many consumers, wary of health risks, opt for new options like vapes or oral nicotine.

But price increases hit Marlboro's market share, Altria said, as inflation-weary consumers try to conserve cash by switching to cheaper brands like USA Gold.

Net revenues from smokeable products fell 5.3% in the third quarter, as higher pricing only partially offset lower shipment volumes and higher promotional investments.

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'Highly Profitable'

Chief executive Billy Gifford noted Altria's cigarette business remained "highly profitable", providing fuel for the company's switch to smoking alternatives.

Altria's shares fell around 2% in pre-market trade.

Rae Maile, analyst at Panmure Gordon, said Altria was still effectively leveraging its ability to raise prices to maintain revenues and profit.

"The model is not broken," he said, adding Altria's profits remained at similar levels to last year despite volume declines.

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Altria is also continuing its push into smoking alternatives, following a disastrous foray into e-cigarettes via its 2018 investment in Juul Labs, which lost it billions of dollars.

Pod-Based Vape

It made a new bet via the acquisition of pod-based vape NJOY ACE in June, but NJOY lags far behind Juul in terms of market share. Altria said the reported shipment volume for NJOY ACE in the third quarter was about 7.5 million pods.

Analysts at Jefferies said the scant progress update on NJOY, combined with the slowdown in traction of its nicotine pouch product on!, meant the market may not view this as a good quarter for Altria.

A 36.7% increase in on! shipment volumes helped offset a decline in traditional moist-cut oral tobacco, but fell short of the 47.8% growth seen in the second quarter.

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Overall, Altria's third quarter revenues net of excise taxes of $5.28 billion were also slightly behind analyst expectations, according to LSEG data.

Read More: Philip Morris To End Marlboro Cigarette Sales In UK Within A Decade

News by Reuters, edited by Donna Ahern, Checkout. For more a-brands stories, click here. Click subscribe to sign up for the Checkout print edition.

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