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Here's What Investors Should Expect Altria has raised its dividend 48 times in the past 46 years. Every year in late August, Altria announces a new dividend increase. It's that time of year again. Altria maintains an honest and clear dividend policy. The company seeks to return 80% of its adjusted earnings per share to shareholders via the dividend. Altria has had a strong performance so far this year. Thanks to solid growth in both its smokable and smokeless categories, the company recently raised its full-year earnings guidance. Based on Altria's updated guidance and my belief the company can top its own guidance, here's where I think Altria will take its dividend. Tobacco giant Altria Group (NYSE:MO) is a stock that's near-and-dear to many investors, including myself. Altria was one of the first stocks I ever bought, back when I first started investing. The reason I, and presumably most other investors, own Altria is simple: steady profits, rising dividends like clock-work, and shareholder-friendly management that maintains a clear and concise dividend policy. Altria is a legendary dividend growth stock. It has increased its dividend 48 times in the past 46 years. Each year, around this time, Altria raises its dividend. It's now been four full quarters since Altria last increased its dividend, which means it's time for another raise. Here's a rundown of what kind of dividend hike Altria investors should expect this year. An Unambiguous Dividend ProgramAltria clearly spells out its dividend priority in the investor relations section of its web site. That is, the company seeks to distribute approximately 80% of its adjusted earnings per share. With that as a framework, it's actually not very difficult to accurately project what Altria will do with its dividend increases from year to year. In fact, last year around this time I published an article titled "Here's How Much Altria Will Raise Its Dividend In A Few Weeks". I predicted Altria would raise its quarterly dividend from $0.48 per share to $0.52 per share, and sure enough, it did. Rather than claiming to have a crystal ball, really all I did was analyze Altria's performance year-to-date, including its revenue and adjusted earnings growth, and compare its full-year projections with its stated dividend policy. Using that same blueprint, let's dig in to Altria's fundamentals in 2015, to gauge what a reasonable dividend raise looks like. Where Altria Stands Thus FarAltria's fiscal 2015 is halfway in the books. So far, Altria's revenue and adjusted earnings per share is up 5.5% and 13%, respectively, through the first six months. Altria has performed very well, even under the pressure from falling smoking rates in the United States. Here's how Altria has managed to do so well, even in a challenging environment. First, Altria has benefited from strong performance in its flagship Marlboro brand, as well as growth in its smokeless category. Altria captured record market share for Marlboro last quarter, and it realized 51% combined market share for its key smokeless brands, Copenhagen and Skoal. Revenue in the smokable category increased 7.4% over the first half, net of excise taxes, thanks to 2.4% shipment volume growth in that time. Revenue in smokeless, net of excise taxes, was up 3.9% in the first two quarters. The other benefit to Altria's earnings is its aggressive share repurchase program. As a tobacco company, Altria enjoys tremendous returns on capital. Its capital expenditure requirements are low, and it's virtually banned from advertising. This keeps cash flow high: Altria generated $4.5 billion of free cash flow last year as stated in its 10-K. Altria is an extremely shareholder friendly, not just because of its dividend, but because of its effective share buyback program. It returned $3.8 billion to investors last year in dividends, and another $939 million in share buybacks to repurchase 22.5 million shares in 2014. That represents year-over-year growth of 7.5%-9.5% based on Altria's adjusted EPS of $2.57 last year. That paves the way for a nice increase this year, in the high single-digit range, just like last year. My ExpectationsMaintaining an 80% payout ratio based on its full-year guidance range, Altria's annualized dividend should grow to $2.20 per share-$2.24 per share. At the midpoint of Altria's adjusted EPS forecast, roughly $2.78 per share, Altria's dividend would increase to about $2.22 per share, which would represent a 6.7% increase. I think this year, as I did last year, that there's a good chance Altria's dividend increase will be closer to the top of the range. My opinion here is based on Altria's better-than-expected performance so far this year, as well as its new share repurchase program, which should further boost EPS growth. Therefore, I'm projecting Altria increases its quarterly dividend to $0.56 per share, which would amount to a 7.6% increase.

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