When the three major U.S. tobacco companies report their first-quarter results this week, investors can find comfort in two themes that have remained consistent for years: Cigarette volumes will fall, but profits will rise, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.
For the past three years, cigarette volumes have dropped around 3 percent to 4 percent annually, and analysts who follow the sector expect that trend to continue as more Americans quit smoking. But market leader Altria Group Inc. and smaller rivals Reynolds American Inc. and Lorillard Inc. keep posting higher core profits.
Analysts expect both trends will continue as all three companies are projected to report modestly higher earnings for the first quarter, though volume could decline more steeply than historical trends, due to higher payroll taxes and still-high unemployment.
The tobacco industry’s ability to consistently raise list prices and aggressively buy back shares have been the greatest drivers to their profitability gains. Smokeless tobacco products, including snuff and snus, have seen higher demand to help offset declining demand for traditional cigarettes. Lorillard and Reynolds are also in the early stages of selling e-cigarettes, which both have said offer potential for long-term growth. Battery-powered e-cigarettes turn heated nicotine-laced liquid into a vapor mist, and come in several flavors.