Altria Lights Up Its Dividend
We have noted in the past that regardless of one's consumption of the tobacco industry's profits, these stocks are worth a look for income investors hungry for consistent dividends with robust yields. Of the three largest U.S. cigarette makers, only Lorillard (NYSE: LO) has a yield below 6.7%. Still, Lorillard yields a tidy 5.2%. On the other hand, we Altria (NYSE: MO), the biggest U.S. cigarette maker, was yielding 6.7% as of Wednesday's close and the maker of the Marlboro brand also announced on Wednesday that it will boost its quarterly dividend by 2.9% to 35 cents a share from 34 cents.
The new dividend is payable on April 9 to shareholders of record on March 15. Based on Wednesday's closing price, Altria would yield almost 7% when factoring in the new dividend. The new dividend will take Altria's payout ratio to 80% from 75%, a change the company had previously said it was targeting.
Altria, which makes 16 other brands in addition to Marlboro, is a prodigious generator of free cash, boasting a war chest of $4.27 billion at the end of 2008, making dividend increases easy for the company to digest. Of course it should be noted that with today's dividend increase Altria has now boosted its dividend in 40 of the past 43 years.