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Lower tobacco volumes and lower prices hit Universal’s revenues in first quarter

| August 8, 2014

Universal Corp.’s net income during the first quarter to the end of June was $0.7 million, down from $58.3 million during the first quarter of last year.

Net income during the first quarter of last year included a gain of $81.6 million before tax ($53.1 million after tax) resulting from a favorable outcome of litigation by the company’s operating subsidiary in Brazil and related to previous years’ excise tax credits. Excluding that non-recurring gain, first quarter net income this year was down by $4.5 million.

Revenues for the first quarter of fiscal year 2015 of $271.5 million were down by 37.4 percent on a combination of lower volumes due to the later receipt of shipment instructions from customers and lower average prices.

“Our first quarter of fiscal year 2015 has been heavily influenced by lower volumes that are a result of typical oversupply market patterns, including a slow start in Brazil and later timing of customer orders and current crop shipments,” said George C. Freeman, III, chairman, president, and CEO. “In recent years, we have completed most of our shipments by the end of our fiscal year, reducing first quarter volumes from carryover crop shipments. Given this shift and the oversupply conditions, our reduced volumes in the first fiscal quarter were expected this year. A predominance of our shipments should occur in the second half of the fiscal year.

“Overall, customer orders are in line with our expectations, and based upon the current backlog of shipments, we anticipate that volumes for fiscal year 2015 will not be materially different from those of last year, barring any unexpected logistical challenges.

“Due to the current season’s production oversupply, we continue to take a measured approach to the remainder of fiscal year 2015. Markets have been developing slowly in some origins as customers have been monitoring market conditions while evaluating their leaf needs and inventory durations, and shipping has been progressing at a slower pace than normal.

“At the same time, we have been very deliberate in our purchases, making reductions where possible, and we are working to minimize uncommitted inventories, which at the end of June 2014 were within our normal range.

“We are not seeing the market pricing volatility that depressed margins in South America last year, and green leaf prices have declined this year in most origins. “Although it is very early, the current production outlook for next year’s crops indicates that leaf production will also decline, consistent with market correction patterns.”

Russia’s smoking population tumbles

| August 8, 2014

The percentage of smokers within Russia’s population has dropped by six percentage points since the country adopted a stringent package of anti-tobacco regulations last year, according to a story in The Moscow Times citing a new poll.

The RussianPublicOpinionResearchCenter, which is a state-owned pollster, said on Wednesday that the percentage of smokers in the country had tumbled from 41 percent to 35 percent during the past year.

The poll revealed also that only a third of the country’s smokers had made an effort to comply with a new ban on smoking in public places.

In June last year, a law banning smoking in public places such as healthcare and educational facilities, government buildings, public transportation and sports venues came into force. And in June this year, the scope of the smoking ban was extended to restaurants, bars, long-distance trains and hotels.

The results of the poll, which was conducted in July, were based on the responses of 1,600 adults across 42 Russian regions in July.

Zimbabwe’s leaf prices second highest

| August 8, 2014

Zimbabwe’s flue-cured tobacco prices, which averaged US$3.17 per kg during the 2014 marketing season, were the second highest in the world, according to a story in the Zimbabwe Business News quoting the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board’s (TIMB) CEO, Dr. Andrew Matibiri.

The highest prices were said to have been paid in the US (presumably during the 2013 sales season), where they ‘hovered around’ US$3.80 per kg.

Matibiri was quoted as saying that the ‘soaring tobacco prices’ on the domestic market were propelled in part by a sharp increase in the number of growers.

However, though Zimbabwe’s 2013/14 growing and sales season was hugely successful in producing and marketing about 210 million kg, the biggest crop for 14 years; the average grower price was more than 14 percent down on that of the 2012/13 season, $3.69 per kg.

Smoke faster, we need the power

| August 8, 2014

Scientists in South Korea say they have found a way of converting used cigarette butts into a material capable of storing energy that could be used to help power ‘everything from mobile phones to electric cars’, according to a Reuters story citing a study published in the journal of Nanotechnology.

“Our study has shown that used cigarette filters can be transformed into a high-performing carbon-based material using a simple one-step process, which simultaneously offers a green solution to meeting the energy demands of society,” the study’s co-author, Jongheop Yi, was quoted as saying.

The end result is a ‘supercapacitor’ that the scientists said stores more power, charges quicker and lasts longer than available storage alternatives.

Many businesses lack e-cigarette policies

| August 8, 2014

More than half of UK businesses have no policy on the use of electronic cigarettes in the workplace, according to an International Business Times story citing research by the PMI Health Group.

The study, which questioned 216 personnel managers across large and medium sized UK companies, found that more than 58 percent of them ‘have yet to introduce a policy on electronic cigarette use’.

The research revealed also that 53 percent of employers were not concerned about staff vaping.

Seventy nine percent of the companies that have introduced electronic cigarette policies prohibit their use in all enclosed working environments, in line with cigarette smoking bans.

Tobacco used in fight against Ebola

| August 7, 2014

Drug makers’ use of tobacco plants as a fast and cheap way to produce novel biotechnology treatments is gaining global attention because of its role in an experimental Ebola therapy, according to a story by Sharon Begley for Reuters.

The treatment, which had been tested only in laboratory animals before being given to two US medical workers in Liberia, apparently comprises proteins called monoclonal antibodies that bind to and inactivate the Ebola virus.

For decades biotech companies have produced such antibodies by growing genetically engineered mouse cells in enormous metal bioreactors. But in the case of the new Ebola treatment ZMapp, developed by Mapp Pharmaceuticals, the antibodies were produced in tobacco plants at Kentucky Bioprocessing, a unit of Reynolds American.

The tobacco-plant-produced monoclonals have been dubbed ‘plantibodies’.

“Tobacco makes for a good vehicle to express the antibodies because it is inexpensive and it can produce a lot,” said Erica Ollmann Saphire, a professor at The Scripps Research Institute and a prominent researcher in viral hemorrhagic fever diseases such as Ebola. “It is grown in a greenhouse and you can manufacture kilograms of the materials. It is much less expensive than cell culture.”

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