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But Should Investors Be Worried When looking at the yields of the major tobacco companies, they may seem too good to be true. This is especially true for Altria Group (MO), the highest yielding of the big tobacco companies, and also the best-run company in the sector, in my opinion. Let's take a look at the company, where it may be heading, and if the dividend is sustainable going forward. Altria Group Formerly known as Phillip Morris, Altria is a holding company with some of the most popular tobacco brands in the world among its portfolio. The company also has an extensive wine business, including the Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates as well as such wine brands as Fourteen Hands, Stag's Leap, Seven Falls, and about a dozen more. is definitely dropping, the actual number of smokers is staying relatively constant. adults were smokers. smokers today is around 45 million). population is somewhat offsetting the lower percentage of smokers. Also, with the invention of electronic cigarettes, tobacco users have an additional option besides quitting smoking outright. Even regular smokers are using electronic cigarettes some of the time, like in bars and restaurants where cigarette smoke is not allowed. Altria launched its first e-cigarette this summer through its NuMark subsidiary, and although this is a young industry, research has suggested that Altria could add $5 billion in value to its company by capitalizing on the e-cigarette market while it's still in its infancy. The dividend Altria pays a very generous dividend yield of 5.5% annually ($1.92 per share), which is the highest among the major tobacco companies and has been raised regularly throughout the years. My only concern is whether or not the yield is sustainable. The company is expected to report 2013 earnings of $2.39 per share, which would represent a relatively high 80.3% payout ratio. The consensus calls for earnings of $2.56 and $2.74 in 2014 and 2015, respectively, which represents earnings growth of 7% annually. Since the dividend is already stretched pretty far, I wouldn't expect increases of any more than 5-7% annually going forward. Conclusion While Altria and other big tobacco companies can provide you with a fantastic stream of income, know that their growth days are probably behind them. Over time the decline in smokers could definitely erode profit margins, but for now it's not too much of a concern. The tobacco giants are still excellent options for a steady income stream that should come with nice annual raises. Source: Big Tobacco Means Big Income, But Should Investors Be Worried? Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article. (More.)

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