Altria Group (MO) Upgraded to Buy by Zacks Investment Research

Zacks Investment Research upgraded shares of Altria Group (NYSE:MO) from a hold rating to a buy rating in a research note published on Tuesday. Zacks Investment Research currently has $73.00 price target on the stock.

According to Zacks, “Altria has surpassed the industry in the past month, thanks to its progress in the smokeless products category. Growth in market share for smokeless products also benefited the company’s third-quarter 2017 earnings, which rose year over year and topped the Zacks Consensus Estimate. Favorable pricing for both smokeable and smokeless products also aided the company’s performance. Further, the company expects the smokeless product category, including e-vapor products to continue performing well. Moreover, Altria remains on track with its cost-reduction initiatives and consolidation of its manufacturing facilities to streamline operations.  However, declining demand of tobacco products and stringent government regulations to curb tobacco consumption has been hurting Altria’s top line.Evidently, sales have lagged the consensus mark in seven out of the last nine quarters. Nonetheless, the company retained its 2017 earnings view.”

Several other analysts have also weighed in on the company. BidaskClub lowered Altria Group from a sell rating to a strong sell rating in a report on Friday, August 25th. Wells Fargo & Company reissued an outperform rating and issued a $80.00 target price on shares of Altria Group in a report on Monday, July 31st. Cowen and Company raised Altria Group from a market perform rating to an outperform rating and upped their target price for the company from $64.00 to $71.00 in a report on Tuesday, September 26th. Vetr downgraded Altria Group from a strong-buy rating to a buy rating and set a $71.89 price objective on the stock. in a research report on Friday, October 13th. Finally, Royal Bank Of Canada upgraded Altria Group from an underperform rating to a sector perform rating and set a $62.00 price objective on the stock in a research report on Monday, July 31st. One investment analyst has rated the stock with a sell rating, six have given a hold rating and ten have assigned a buy rating to the company’s stock. Altria Group currently has an average rating of Buy and a consensus target price of $72.06.

Shares of Altria Group (MO) traded up 0.69% on Tuesday, reaching $64.66. The company’s stock had a trading volume of 2,850,240 shares. Altria Group has a 1-year low of $60.01 and a 1-year high of $77.79. The company has a 50 day moving average of $63.77 and a 200 day moving average of $68.91. The stock has a market capitalization of $124.66 billion, a P/E ratio of 8.53 and a beta of 0.64.

Altria Group (NYSE:MO) last posted its earnings results on Thursday, October 26th. The company reported $0.90 earnings per share for the quarter, beating the Thomson Reuters’ consensus estimate of $0.87 by $0.03. The company had revenue of $5.10 billion for the quarter, compared to analyst estimates of $5.22 billion. Altria Group had a return on equity of 49.43% and a net margin of 60.37%. Altria Group’s revenue was down 1.8% compared to the same quarter last year. During the same quarter in the prior year, the company earned $0.82 earnings per share. Equities research analysts expect that Altria Group will post $3.28 earnings per share for the current fiscal year.

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Altria Group declared that its board has authorized a stock buyback program on Thursday, July 27th that allows the company to buyback $1.00 billion in outstanding shares. This buyback authorization allows the company to purchase up to 0.7% of its stock through open market purchases. Stock buyback programs are usually a sign that the company’s management believes its stock is undervalued.

The firm also recently announced a quarterly dividend, which was paid on Tuesday, October 10th. Investors of record on Friday, September 15th were given a dividend of $0.66 per share. The ex-dividend date of this dividend was Thursday, September 14th. This is an increase from Altria Group’s previous quarterly dividend of $0.61. This represents a $2.64 annualized dividend and a yield of 4.11%. Altria Group’s dividend payout ratio is 33.04%.

In related news, Director Dinyar S. Devitre sold 32,000 shares of the stock in a transaction dated Thursday, September 21st. The stock was sold at an average price of $61.22, for a total transaction of $1,959,040.00. The transaction was disclosed in a filing with the SEC, which can be accessed through the SEC website. Also, CEO Martin J. Barrington sold 15,300 shares of the stock in a transaction dated Thursday, August 10th. The stock was sold at an average price of $65.03, for a total value of $994,959.00. Following the transaction, the chief executive officer now owns 701,074 shares in the company, valued at $45,590,842.22. The disclosure for this sale can be found here. Corporate insiders own 0.11% of the company’s stock.

A number of hedge funds and other institutional investors have recently added to or reduced their stakes in MO. Janus Henderson Group PLC lifted its position in Altria Group by 21,647.0% during the second quarter. Janus Henderson Group PLC now owns 19,831,702 shares of the company’s stock worth $1,476,867,000 after buying an additional 19,740,509 shares during the period. BlackRock Inc. lifted its position in Altria Group by 7.6% during the second quarter. BlackRock Inc. now owns 127,525,988 shares of the company’s stock worth $9,496,859,000 after buying an additional 8,969,677 shares during the period. Capital World Investors lifted its position in Altria Group by 27.6% during the second quarter. Capital World Investors now owns 41,157,755 shares of the company’s stock worth $3,065,018,000 after buying an additional 8,914,575 shares during the period. Vanguard Group Inc. lifted its position in Altria Group by 2.0% during the second quarter. Vanguard Group Inc. now owns 136,023,361 shares of the company’s stock worth $10,129,659,000 after buying an additional 2,690,270 shares during the period. Finally, APG Asset Management N.V. lifted its position in Altria Group by 67.7% during the third quarter. APG Asset Management N.V. now owns 4,893,005 shares of the company’s stock worth $310,314,000 after buying an additional 1,974,500 shares during the period. Hedge funds and other institutional investors own 61.92% of the company’s stock.

Altria Group Company Profile

Altria Group, Inc is a holding company. The Company’s segments include smokeable products, smokeless products and wine. The Company’s subsidiaries include Philip Morris USA Inc (PM USA), which is engaged in the manufacture and sale of cigarettes in the United States; John Middleton Co (Middleton), which is engaged in the manufacture and sale of machine-made cigars and pipe tobacco, and UST LLC (UST), which, through its subsidiaries, including U.S.

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