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Altria Group's MO CEO Marty Barrington on Q4 2014 Results Good day. And welcome to the Altria Group 2014 Fourth Quarter Earnings Conference Call. Today's call is scheduled to last approximately one hour including remarks by Altria's management and the question and answer session. [Operator Instructions] Representatives of the investment community and media on the call will be able to ask questions following the conclusion of the prepared remarks. I would now like to turn the call over to Ms. Sarah Knakmuhs, Vice President, Investor Relations for Altria Client Services. Please go ahead ma'am. Good morning and thank you for joining us. We are here this morning with Marty Barrington, Altria's Chairman and CEO; and Howard Willard, Altria's CFO to talk about Altria's 2014 business results for the fourth quarter and full year. During our call today unless otherwise stated, we're comparing results to the same period in 2013. Earlier today, we issued a press release regarding our fourth quarter and full year results. Our remarks contain forward looking and cautionary statements and projections of future results. Please review the forward looking and cautionary statement section at the end of today's earnings release for various factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from projections. Future dividend payments and share repurchases remain subject to the discretion of Altria's Board. The timing of share repurchases also depends on marketplace conditions and other factors. generally accepted accounting principles. Today's call will contain various operating results on both a reported and adjusted basis, which excludes items that affect the comparability of reported results. Descriptions of these measures and reconciliations are included in today's earnings release, which is available on our website and via the Altria investor app. Now I'll turn the call over to Marty. Thanks, Sarah. Good morning, everyone, and thanks for joining our call. Altria had another terrific year in 2014. For the full year, we again delivered against our two long term financial goals. We grew adjusted diluted EPS by 8% and we paid out approximately 80% of adjusted diluted EPS to shareholders in dividends which totaled $3.9 billion. We also raised our dividend by 8.3%, marking the 48th increase in the last 45 years. We further rewarded shareholders by repurchasing nearly $1 billion in shares between the program we completed in 2014 and the new $1 billion program we announced in July. And in 2014, Altria delivered total shareholder return of 34.5%, far outpacing both the S 500 and the Food, Beverage and Tobacco Index. We achieved these results by the clarity of our core strategies and our talented employees' strong execution against them. Here are some important segment highlights from the quarter and the full year. The smokable products segment produced outstanding results by consistently executing its strategy of maximizing income while maintaining modest share growth on Marlboro and Black Mild over time. The segment grew adjusted operating company's income by almost 8% in the quarter and by nearly 7% for the full year, primarily through higher pricing. The end of the federal tobacco quota buyout payments also contributed in the quarter. The segment also expanded adjusted operating company's income margins in both periods. Marlboro was the primary driver of these strong financial results. PM USA's long term investments in the Marlboro architecture have strengthened the brand's equity and expanded its ability to engage both loyal and competitive adult smokers. In 2014, the brand posted its third consecutive year of retail share growth. And Marlboro continues to innovate. In November, PM USA expanded distribution of Marlboro Menthol Rich Blue to 28 states, primarily in the eastern US to enhance Marlboro's position in the menthol segment. It's early but Rich Blue is off to a good start. In the machine made large cigar category, John Middleton strengthened its leadership position in the tipped segment. The company posted solid volume growth in the quarter and the full year, driven primarily by Black Mild. Over time Middleton has enhanced the brand with innovative introductions like Black Mild Jazz and in December, Middleton announced the national expansion of Black Mild Casino, a dark tobacco blend in the tipped segment. In the smokeless products segment, USSTC continued to execute its strategy in 2014. USSTC grew full year adjusted operating company's income by more than 3% and expanded its already strong adjusted operating company's income margin by more than 1% despite a slowdown in the industry volume growth rate. We estimate that growth rate to be about 2% for the last 12 months. USSTC maintained retail share leadership in the smokeless category in 2014 with its premium brands as Copenhagen and Skoal grew their combined share in the quarter and for the full year. Copenhagen posted strong share gains in both periods, behind the strength of Copenhagen Long Cut Wintergreen. In 2014, USSTC began enhancing Skoal's value equation with a new equity campaign and targeted investments to narrow price gaps on Skoal Classic. We're pleased with the results we've seen so far. Turning to innovative tobacco products, Nu Mark made steady progress as it builds e vapor category leadership. The company is taking a disciplined approach and remains focused on building a robust portfolio of superior innovative products for adult smokers vapor. In the fourth quarter, Nu Mark evolved MarkTen by adding a new offering with 2.5% nicotine concentration by weight in classic and menthol varieties. In December, Nu Mark completed its national launch of MarkTen e vapor products achieving distribution in over 130,000 stores and at year end MarkTen was ranked among the top e vapor brands nationally based on retail market share. Nu Mark also acquired and integrated Green Smoke in 2014. This acquisition added great people, deep supply chain expertise and technology and we're excited about the brand's potential. It's still early days in this dynamic and evolving category but we believe Nu Mark is increasingly well positioned for the future. In 2014, our alcohol assets continued to diversify our income and contribute to income growth. In the wine segment, Ste. Michelle posted another year of double digit operating company's income growth, primarily through higher volume. Critics awarded Ste. Michelle's premium wines more than 180 ratings of 90 or better in 2014. Our earnings also benefited from our SAB Miller investment which continues to support our strong balance sheet. So to sum up, 2014 was another excellent year for our strong premium brands, for our company and for our shareholders. We're maximizing income in our core premium tobacco businesses and innovating for the future. We're extremely proud of the results produced by our very talented employees and of our track record for creating value for shareholders. Looking ahead to 2015, Altria forecast its 2015 adjusted diluted EPS will increase by 7% to 9% to a range of $2.75 to $2.80 from an adjusted diluted EPS base of $2.57 in 2014. Finally today we are announcing some executive leadership changes all to be effective March 1 this year. First, Dave Beran, our President and Chief Operating Officer has decided to retire after 38 years of distinguished service to the company. Dave's strong expertise, knowledge, financial acumen and leadership have contributed immeasurably to Altria success and he will be missed. When Dave retires, Howard Willard will become Altria's Chief Operating Officer. He has significant experience having been with the company since 1992. In addition to his current role of CFO, Howard has held leadership positions in numerous business functions of the Altria companies. Bill Gifford will succeed Howard as Altria's Chief Financial Officer. Billy has been with Altria since 1994 and also has held numerous roles including President and CEO of PM USA and his current role as Altria's Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development. These moves are consistent with our long term succession planning and these talented experienced leaders will serve us well for the future.