Zacks Investment Research upgraded shares of Altria Group (NYSE:MO) from a sell rating to a hold rating in a report issued on Monday, Zacks.com reports.

According to Zacks, “Altria, whose shares have underperformed the industry in the past six months, grapples with consistently declining cigarette shipment volumes. Stern FDA regulations combined with increased health consciousness has been taking a toll on the cigarette category. Notably, cigarette shipment volumes fell 4.4% year over year during fourth-quarter 2018, owing to lower cigarette industry volumes and decline in retail share. Going ahead, management expects cigarette industry volume to decline in the range of 3.5-5%. Additionally, the company’s wine category has been sluggish, thanks to stiff competition. Nevertheless, Altria has been gaining from the popularity of Smokeless products. To further bolster this category, the company recently invested in JUUL and Cronos. Pricing also continues to drive the company’s revenues. it has also embarked upon a cost reduction initiative to counter interest burden stemming from investments.”

Several other research firms have also recently commented on MO. Citigroup set a $52.00 price target on shares of Altria Group and gave the stock a sell rating in a report on Thursday, March 28th. TheStreet lowered shares of Altria Group from a b- rating to a c+ rating in a research report on Monday, January 7th. ValuEngine raised shares of Altria Group from a sell rating to a hold rating in a research report on Thursday, March 21st. Piper Jaffray Companies set a $75.00 price objective on shares of Altria Group and gave the company a buy rating in a research report on Tuesday, December 11th. Finally, Deutsche Bank cut their price objective on shares of Altria Group from $62.00 to $55.00 and set a buy rating on the stock in a research report on Friday, December 21st. Three research analysts have rated the stock with a sell rating, five have issued a hold rating and eight have issued a buy rating to the company. The company currently has an average rating of Hold and an average target price of $64.28.

MO stock opened at $55.42 on Monday. The company has a quick ratio of 0.09, a current ratio of 0.20 and a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.80. The company has a market cap of $103.19 billion, a P/E ratio of 13.89, a P/E/G ratio of 1.58 and a beta of 0.39. Altria Group has a 52 week low of $42.40 and a 52 week high of $66.04.

Altria Group (NYSE:MO) last posted its quarterly earnings results on Thursday, January 31st. The company reported $0.95 EPS for the quarter, hitting the consensus estimate of $0.95. The business had revenue of $4.79 billion during the quarter, compared to analysts’ expectations of $4.81 billion. Altria Group had a net margin of 27.45% and a return on equity of 49.05%. During the same period last year, the company posted $0.91 earnings per share. As a group, analysts anticipate that Altria Group will post 4.2 earnings per share for the current year.

The firm also recently disclosed a quarterly dividend, which will be paid on Tuesday, April 30th. Investors of record on Monday, March 25th will be given a dividend of $0.80 per share. This represents a $3.20 annualized dividend and a yield of 5.77%. The ex-dividend date is Friday, March 22nd. Altria Group’s payout ratio is presently 80.20%.

In other news, Director Nabil Y. Sakkab purchased 1,032 shares of the company’s stock in a transaction dated Thursday, February 21st. The shares were bought at an average price of $50.42 per share, with a total value of $52,033.44. Following the completion of the transaction, the director now directly owns 38,308 shares in the company, valued at approximately $1,931,489.36. The purchase was disclosed in a filing with the SEC, which is available through this link. Also, Director Nabil Y. Sakkab purchased 1,352 shares of the company’s stock in a transaction dated Monday, February 25th. The stock was purchased at an average cost of $52.11 per share, for a total transaction of $70,452.72. Following the transaction, the director now owns 39,660 shares of the company’s stock, valued at $2,066,682.60. The disclosure for this purchase can be found here. 0.11% of the stock is currently owned by company insiders.

Several large investors have recently added to or reduced their stakes in MO. Bank of New York Mellon Corp grew its stake in shares of Altria Group by 82,381.0% in the third quarter. Bank of New York Mellon Corp now owns 22,356,466 shares of the company’s stock worth $1,348,318,000 after acquiring an additional 22,329,361 shares during the last quarter. Renaissance Technologies LLC grew its stake in shares of Altria Group by 106.0% in the third quarter. Renaissance Technologies LLC now owns 730,645 shares of the company’s stock worth $44,065,000 after acquiring an additional 375,945 shares during the last quarter. King Luther Capital Management Corp grew its stake in shares of Altria Group by 4.4% in the third quarter. King Luther Capital Management Corp now owns 26,018 shares of the company’s stock worth $1,569,000 after acquiring an additional 1,091 shares during the last quarter. Laurion Capital Management LP acquired a new stake in Altria Group during the third quarter worth $685,000. Finally, Capital Bank & Trust Co boosted its stake in Altria Group by 7.6% during the third quarter. Capital Bank & Trust Co now owns 57,161 shares of the company’s stock worth $3,447,000 after buying an additional 4,016 shares in the last quarter. 64.28% of the stock is currently owned by institutional investors.

Altria Group Company Profile

Altria Group, Inc, through its subsidiaries, manufactures and sells cigarettes, smokeless products, and wine in the United States. It offers cigarettes primarily under the Marlboro brand; cigars principally under the Black & Mild brand; and moist smokeless tobacco products under the Copenhagen, Skoal, Red Seal, and Husky brands.

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