Altria Group Inc (MO), Philip Morris International Inc. (PM): What’s The Best Way To Beat Mr. Market

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Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO)For all the negative publicity, hefty legal settlements, and push to get people to stop using its products, one would think the tobacco industry should be avoided.

But if your conscience allows you to own the stock of a company that produces cigarettes and other tobacco products, you may be surprised at the returns you receive.

Consider the two biggest names in the industry: Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) and Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM). Altria is actually the parent company of Philip Morris, having spun off the firm in 2008. While Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM) is strictly a tobacco company, boasting seven of the top 15 brands and selling its products in 160 countries, Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) is a bit more diversified. Altria also produces and sells blended table wines under several brand names, and maintains a portfolio of leveraged and direct finance leases in aircraft, rail and surface transport, electric power, real estate, and manufacturing.

Performance and valuation

Altria just hit a 52-week high on May 1 of $36.91, and is currently yielding 4.8% (versus a 5 year average of 6.5%). The stock has been fairly up and down since July 2012, when it marked a previous 52-week high of $36.25. In the last three years, it has nearly doubled in value and has returned 80% in the past five years.  Meanwhile, it currently trades at a price to earnings ratio of 17.6, and in the last 12 months, Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO)’s return on assets was 11.8%, its return on investments was 26.8% and its net profit margin was 17%. Over the last five years it has averaged an annual ROA of 11.3%, ROI of 26.1% and net profit margin of 20%.  All of these ratios and metrics show a healthy company, and one that could continue to grow over the coming years, especially with its diverse investments.

However, one concerning sign for Altria, is its debt, with its total debt more than four times its equity. It also has very little liquidity, as evidenced by a low quick ratio (0.40) and current ratio (0.80).  Finally, analysts are mixed on the future of Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO), with three have “strong buy” ratings, five have “buy” ratings and six have “hold” ratings

Philip Morris, however, shows a slightly different story.  Its stock has been twice as volatile in the last three years, as measured by the companies’ beta (0.46 for Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO); 0.86 for PM). Although it set a 52-week high on May 1 of $96.73, it has taken its investors on a bumpier ride to get there, but is still yielding 3.6% (versus a 5 year average of 4.3%). Still, in the last three years the stock has slightly more than doubled in value and nearly tripled in five years.  While this shows good growth, many are concerned about future potential, given the tobacco industry overall.  In terms of valuations and metrics, Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM) is is good as well.

It currently has a price to earnings ratio of 18.4, and in the last 12 months, Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM) earned an ROA of 24.3%, an ROI of 64.6% and net profit margin of 11.7%. Its average profit margin for the last five years was 11.2%, while its average ROA was 22.2% and its ROI was 46.2%.  Similarly to Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO), Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM) has some liquidity and debt concerns, with negative equity of $3.48 billion, a long-term debt load of $17.64 billion, and only $3 billion in cash as of the end of 2012.  Similarly to Atria, Philip Morris analysts are mixed: five have “strong buy” ratings, six have “buy” ratings, and seven have “hold” ratings.

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