Altria Exceeds Profit Estimates on Higher Cigarette Prices

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Packs of Altria Group Inc. Marlboro Cigarettes
Packs of Altria Group Inc. Marlboro cigarettes. Chief Executive Officer Martin J. Barrington has been boosting prices for traditional smokes as he works to develop smokeless products like e-cigarettes. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Altria Group Inc., the largest seller of tobacco in the U.S., reported an increase in first-quarter profit after it raised prices and sold more cigarettes.

Profit amounted to 63 cents a share, excluding some items, Richmond, Virginia-based Altria said Thursday in a statement. Analysts estimated 62 cents on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Domestic cigarette shipment volume increased 1.6 percent, the best performance since the second quarter of 2007.

Chief Executive Officer Martin J. Barrington has been boosting prices for traditional smokes as he works to develop smokeless products like e-cigarettes, which are on the rise. The tobacco industry also is preparing for one of the biggest mergers in decades, a deal that could bring stiffer competition to Altria. Its largest competitor, Reynolds American Inc. is waiting for U.S. regulatory approval to acquire Lorillard Inc. for about $25 billion.

Altria shares rose 0.4 percent to $52.35 at the close in New York. They have gained 6.3 percent this year.

During a conference call, Altria attributed its shipment volume increase in part to lower gas prices, which also helped total industry volume sales in the first quarter.

Net income fell to $1.02 billion from $1.18 billion a year earlier. Revenue increased 5.2 percent to $5.8 billion.

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