Altria Quarterly Profit Jumps 32% on Higher Marlboro Prices

Altria Group Inc., the largest seller of tobacco in the U.S., said fourth-quarter profit rose 32 percent as it boosted Marlboro cigarette prices.

Net income increased to $1.1 billion, or 55 cents a share, from $836 million, or 41 cents, a year earlier, the Richmond, Virginia-based company said today in a statement. Analysts projected 55 cents, the average of 11 estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Altria’s Philip Morris USA business raised prices on all cigarette brands by 6 cents a pack in December following a 6-cent increase in June. Marlboro’s share of U.S. smokers increased to 42.6 percent in the fourth quarter from 41.6 percent a year earlier after promotions spurred demand for new varieties of the top-selling U.S. cigarette brand.

“Philip Morris continues to take cigarette share,” Bonnie Herzog, an analyst at Wells Fargo & Co. in New York, wrote today in a note. She has an outperform rating on the shares, the equivalent of a buy.

Altria, which also produces Copenhagen snuff, Black & Mild cigars and Chateau Ste. Michelle wine, said it will earn $2.35 a share to $2.41 a share in 2013. Analysts project earnings of $2.38, on average. Profit last year was $2.21, excluding some items.

The shares slipped 0.1 percent to $33.68 at the close in New York. Altria has advanced for four straight years, including a 6 percent gain in 2012.