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Altria Profit Matches Estimates After Price Increases

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Altria Group Inc., the largest seller of tobacco in the U.S., reported third-quarter profit that met analysts’ estimates, helped by higher cigarette prices.

Net income declined 44 percent to $657 million, or 32 cents a share, from $1.17 billion, or 57 cents, a year earlier, the Richmond, Virginia-based maker of Marlboro cigarettes said today in a statement. Excluding items, primarily a loss on the early extinguishment of debt, profit totaled 58 cents, matching the average of 12 estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Altria’s Philip Morris USA business raised prices on all cigarette brands by 6 cents a pack in June while relying on promotions and last year’s introduction of a new variety, Marlboro Black, to spur market share gains for its top-selling cigarette brand. Marlboro’s share of U.S. smokers rose to 42.7 percent from 41.7 percent in the third quarter, while total cigarette shipments advanced 1.2 percent.

“The company’s aggressive new product and promotional plans for the brand are propelling the current market share gain,” Christopher Growe, an analyst for Stifel Financial Corp. in St. Louis, said today in a note. He rates Altria neutral, equivalent of a hold.

Altria fell 0.1 percent to $32.10 at the close in New York. The shares have risen 8.3 percent this year.

(Altria held a conference call for analysts today. To listen to a replay, click MO US EVTS <GO>.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Burritt in Greensboro at cburritt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at rajello@bloomberg.net

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