Softer Cigarette Sales Weaken Altria's 2Q Profit

Cigarette maker Altria (NYSE:MO) saw its second-quarter profit fall 57% on softer sales and one-time charges, though it continued to work toward its goal of achieving $1.5 billion in cost reductions.

The maker of Marlboro cigarettes and Skoal products booked a profit of $444 million, or 21 cents a share, compared with $1.04 billion, or 50 cents a share in the same quarter last year. Excluding one-time restructuring and lease transaction charges, the company earned 53 cents, matching the Streets view.

Revenue slipped 5.6% to $5.92 billion from $6.27 billion a year ago, but it still widely trumped average analyst estimates polled by Thomson Reuters of $4.43 billion.

The company reaffirmed its fiscal guidance in the range of $2.01 to $2.07 a charge. Analysts are predicting a profit of $2.04 a share.

Our adjusted EPS growth reflects the strong operating margins and retail share performance of our tobacco companies premium brands, Altria CEO Michael Szymanczyk said in a statement.

The company achieved cost savings of $80 million during the period. Altria said it expects to achieve at least $30 million in additional cost savings by the end of the year.

Marlboro achieved strong sequential retail share growth, the company said, while its smokeless-tobacco products, such as Copenhagen and Skoal, benefited from higher volumes.

Yet Altria warned 2011 is likely to remain challenging as the economy continues to gradually rebound and adults struggle with high unemployment.