Marlboro maker Altria quarterly profit up 3 percent

Marlboro maker Altria quarterly profit up 3 percent
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. said Thursday its second-quarter profit rose about 3 percent as higher prices and lower expenses from a longstanding legal settlement offset a decline in cigarette sales.

The owner of the nation's biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, also raised the lower end its full-year earnings guidance.

The Richmond, Va.-based company earned $1.27 billion, or 63 cents per share, for the April-June period, up from $1.22 billion, or 60 cents a share, a year ago.

Excluding one-time items, earnings were 62 cents per share, missing Wall Street expectations by a penny.

Revenue, excluding excise taxes, decreased 2.5 percent to $4.5 billion. Analysts polled by FactSet expected $4.62 billion.

Cigarette volumes fell nearly 7 percent to 33.8 billion cigarettes compared with a year ago. Marlboro volumes fell more than 7 percent, volume for its other premium brands fell by nearly 11 percent, and volumes for discount cigarette brands like L&M increased nearly 4 percent,

Its share of the U.S. retail market rose 0.3 percentage points to 50.7 percent. Marlboro's share of the U.S. market was flat at 43.7 percent.

The premium Marlboro brand has been under pressure from competitors and lower-priced cigarette brands as consumers face economic pressure and high unemployment.

Those economic challenges are in addition to the tax hikes, smoking bans, health concerns and social stigma that have made the cigarette business tougher.

The company has introduced several new products with the Marlboro brand, often with lower promotional pricing. They include special blends of both menthol and non-menthol cigarettes to try to keep the brand growing and to lure smokers away from its competitors. It has said it has a pipeline of innovative products to supplement the Marlboro brand in the future.

Altria and others are focusing on cigarette alternatives - such as electronic cigarettes, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco - for future sales growth because the decline in cigarette smoking is expected to continue.

Volumes of Altria's smokeless tobacco brands such as Copenhagen and Skoal rose more than 4 percent from a year ago. For the quarter, the company's smokeless tobacco brands had 55 percent of the market, though smokeless tobacco is a tiny market compared with cigarettes.

Altria said inventory changes and retail share losses drove volumes for its Black & Mild cigars down 8 percent during the quarter.

Altria also owns a wine business, holds a voting stake in brewer SABMiller, and has a financial services division.

The company on Thursday also raised the lower end of its full-year adjusted earnings guidance by a penny to a range of $2.36 and $2.41.

During the latest quarter, Altria said it repurchased 3.7 million shares for a total cost of about $135 million as part of a previously announced $300 million share repurchase program, which it expects to complete by the end of 2013.