Reynolds American, Inc. (RAI), Altria Group Inc (MO): E-cigarettes vs. Tobacco, Where Should You Invest?

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Currently, the tobacco industry is in decline because cigarette consumption decreases by around 3% annually. The main reason for that is a growing awareness of the harmful health effects of smoking cigarettes. As a result, total cigarette consumption has continued on a 13-year downward trend. That is why the market for e-cigarettes might be considered the next growth play for the cigarette producers as the chart below suggests.

Source: Statistic Brain (based on data from UBS, Wells Fargo, Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association)

An e-cigarette is an electronic inhaler vaporizing a liquid solution into an aerosol mist. There are some key advantages of smoking e-cigarettes when compared to traditional units. There is no combustion, no smoke, no carbon monoxide, no tar or other carcinogens, no risk of fire, no second-hand smoke, and no unpleasant smell. The total costs for e-cigs can  be significantly lower on an ongoing basis than cigarettes. However, the key benefit of smoking electronic cigarettes is the ability to regulate the nicotine portion consumed. That helps to reduce nicotine concentration step-by-step if a person desires.

Are e-cigarettes the right call for investors? Where should you invest your money out of all the options in the cigarette industry? In this article you will find the answers to these questions.

Market players

Reynolds American, Inc. (NYSE:RAI) is offering a yield above 5%, which has to attract even those investors that are marginal on the negatives for the tobacco industry. The company’s famous brands include Camel and Pall Mall, which hold 8.2% and 8.7% of the U.S market share, respectively.

Since 2006, e-cigarettes have gradually become a significant part of the U.S cigarette sales. With growing advertisements, electronic cigarettes are said to have taken 1% of all cigarette sales in 2013 alone. As the second-largest cigarette producer in U.S, the company has latched onto the e-cigarette trend with the introduction of VUSE.

Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) controls roughly half of the U.S. cigarette market. It is also the exclusive seller of the much-acclaimed Marlboro brand in the US. Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) also is introducing its own brand of e-cigarettes by the name of MarkTen. Sales of e-cigarettes are dependent upon increased awareness and expanded retail distribution. Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) has an advantage over its competition on both fronts due to its superior brand recognition.

Like Reynolds American, Inc. (NYSE:RAI), Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) provides a high yielding dividend at a very affordable price, luring investors away from the competition. However, Altria has growing competition in the form of increasing awareness regarding the harmful effects of smoking, which continue to limit the growth potential of tobacco cigarettes. Evidence of this is given in the fact that cigarette consumption continues to decline by 3% annually.

Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM) sells Marlboro and other cigarettes sold by Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) exclusively outside the U.S. The company’s market share in the international cigarette industry stands at 28.8%. Unlike its American rivals, Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM) is not moving into e-cigarettes for the international markets due to low awareness and demand in the developing world.

Taking advantage of this fact, the company has expanded its volumes in countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia to offset the loss in sales volumes from the developed world. Over the past five years, the company has strengthened its financial position as it improved its cash flows by approximately 100% and capitalized on strong margins. Since 2008, the company has increased its dividend amount by 84.8%.

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