Altria Group Earnings Call Nuggets: Industry Consumption and Promotional Activity

Altria Group (NYSE:MO) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Industry Consumption

Judy Hong – Goldman Sachs: First, so just in terms of the industry consumption declined in the quarter, so, I think your competitors have commented on some of the factors that may have caused a little bit of a softness in terms of the industry volume. So, if you could just comment on what you think is kind of driving a bit of a moderation in terms of the overall cigarette industry shipments?

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Martin J. Barrington – Chairman and CEO: I guess I’ll begin by observing, Judy, that this is best scene overtime. I think to take one quarters worth of data and to try to extrapolate too much is probably a bit dangerous. If you look overtime, you see that the cigarette deploying rate has been about 3% to 4%. Our estimate on an adjusted basis for the quarter is about 4.5%, will go PM USA was less than that and about 4%. We saw in 2012 that was about 3%. When we look at it, we don’t see any big drivers in the first quarter that would argue for us sustained kind of acceleration in the volume decline. And folks have pointed out various factors in the quarter, the end of the payroll tax holiday, some referred to gasoline prices and other factors. So, you know, I think we’ll have to see is the answer. But, again, we’re informed, I think, generally by the fact that the historical decline rate has been in that 3% to 4% zone.

Judy Hong – Goldman Sachs: Then just in terms of your decision to launch your own e-cigarette plan in the second half, I know we’ll get more details about your meeting, but just in terms of kind of why now, are you more comfortable with the potential regulatory environment for e-cigarettes? Do you think that the category is starting to have a bit more of an impact on the cigarette consumption or do you think that you’ve got kind of the product that you’re really to go in with the differentiated positioning, just kind of rational for why now?

Martin J. Barrington – Chairman and CEO: Sure. I mean we’ve observed previously that we were monitoring the category carefully of course. It’s obviously relevant to consumers that we know quite a lot about. We had devoted significant product development work to it and we think that for all those factors, the reasons that we’re announcing that we’ll be out in the second half is we have a product and we have plans that I think will allow us on to compete effectively in this area that’s emerging. It’s small, of course, relative to traditional tobacco products, but there’s no denying that adult tobacco consumers have shown some interest in it. So for us at Altria, that’s spot on our mission. We’re about providing adult tobacco and wine consumers superior branded products and that’s our intention here. We’ll learn our way in smartly.

Judy Hong – Goldman Sachs: Then just lastly on pricing, so if you look at smokeable, you’re pricing was up pretty nicely both kind of year-over-year and sequentially. So, maybe if you can talk about kind of your promotional activity in the first quarter versus the year ago or the fourth quarter? Then is there any impact in terms of the cigarette – sorry – the cigar either pricing or the volume decline that’s causing the smokeable pricing to up more or is it just really consistent with more of the cigarette pricing?

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Martin J. Barrington – Chairman and CEO: Yeah, I mean if you look at smokeable – you know, if you look at net effective pricing, actually it’s quite nice wasn’t it, call it, I don’t know 4.5% give or take, but we had a significant volume decline year-over-year for the reasons that you’ve asked about and we’ve pointed out and others have pointed out. So, basically, it’s driven by the volume. The cigar numbers, if you look at cigar shipments, obviously, year-over-year they were distorted a bit by a trade inventory factors and we’ve got pretty highly competitive dynamic in the cigar space with people bringing in kind of low-priced offshore made product. In terms of the cigarette competitive space, I would say, is pretty much in line with what we’ve seen before. It’s competitive out there, but it’s been competitive for some time. We didn’t see any particular change in the first quarter.

Promotional Activity

David Adelman – Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc.: First, let me ask you about your cigarette promotional activity during the quarter. Was that recalibrated at all because of the weaker volumes?

Martin J. Barrington – Chairman and CEO: No, I think in line with what I just said that our plans, as you know, in the smokeable segment we’re trying to maximize income or making sure that getting modest share momentum on Marlboro. And I think that’s what you see play out in the quarter if you look at Marlboro share growth year-over-year. It’s about two-tenths. So, I think we stuck pretty much to our plan, which is what we intend to do.

David Adelman – Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc.: Okay. Then on e-cigarette, I think it’s sort of a philosophical question. It’s certainly legal to advertise those products much more broadly than other tobacco products or tobacco deprived products, including television and some of the leading brands in that category are on TV. Is that something in the current regulatory environment you’d be willing to do?

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Martin J. Barrington – Chairman and CEO: We’re looking at all that now is the honest answer, David. That’s why we’ll have more on that in June. Our intention is to do this, to do it responsibly. Of course, as you well know and everyone else who follows us know, a lot of that will be defined by what the FDA has to say about how they intend to regulate these products. So our intention is to compete and to compete effectively. We’ll work through all those particulars which…

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