Altria Group (NYSE:MO) was downgraded by Zacks Investment Research from a “buy” rating to a “hold” rating in a report released on Thursday.

According to Zacks, “Altria has surpassed the industry in the past month, thanks to its progress in the smokeless products category. Growth in market share for smokeless products also benefited the company’s third-quarter 2017 earnings, which rose year over year and topped the Zacks Consensus Estimate. Further, the company expects the smokeless product category, including e-vapor products to continue performing well. Moreover, Altria remains on track with its cost-reduction initiatives and consolidation of its manufacturing facilities to streamline operations.  However, declining demand of tobacco products and stringent government regulations to curb tobacco consumption has been hurting Altria’s top line. Evidently, sales have lagged the consensus mark in seven out of the last nine quarters. Altria’s Wine category has also remained dismal for sometime now, owing to heightened competition.”

A number of other equities analysts have also issued reports on the company. BidaskClub lowered Altria Group from a “sell” rating to a “strong sell” rating in a report on Friday, August 25th. Wells Fargo & Company reissued an “outperform” rating and set a $80.00 price target on shares of Altria Group in a report on Monday, July 31st. Cowen and Company raised Altria Group from a “market perform” rating to an “outperform” rating and raised their price target for the stock from $64.00 to $71.00 in a report on Tuesday, September 26th. Vetr lowered Altria Group from a “strong-buy” rating to a “buy” rating and set a $71.89 price target on the stock. in a report on Friday, October 13th. Finally, Royal Bank Of Canada raised Altria Group from an “underperform” rating to a “sector perform” rating and set a $62.00 price target on the stock in a report on Monday, July 31st. One research analyst has rated the stock with a sell rating, seven have assigned a hold rating and nine have given a buy rating to the company’s stock. The company presently has an average rating of “Hold” and a consensus target price of $72.06.

Altria Group (NYSE:MO) last released its quarterly earnings results on Thursday, October 26th. The company reported $0.90 earnings per share (EPS) for the quarter, topping the Zacks’ consensus estimate of $0.87 by $0.03. Altria Group had a return on equity of 49.43% and a net margin of 60.37%. The firm had revenue of $5.10 billion for the quarter, compared to analyst estimates of $5.22 billion. During the same quarter last year, the company posted $0.82 earnings per share. The business’s revenue was down 1.8% on a year-over-year basis.

Altria Group announced that its Board of Directors has approved a stock buyback program on Thursday, July 27th that permits the company to buyback $1.00 billion in outstanding shares. This buyback authorization permits the company to buy up to 0.7% of its shares through open market purchases. Shares buyback programs are often a sign that the company’s board of directors believes its shares are undervalued.

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In other news, CEO Martin J. Barrington sold 15,300 shares of the business’s stock in a transaction that occurred on Thursday, August 10th. The stock was sold at an average price of $65.03, for a total transaction of $994,959.00. Following the sale, the chief executive officer now owns 701,074 shares of the company’s stock, valued at approximately $45,590,842.22. The sale was disclosed in a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, which is available through this hyperlink. Also, Director Dinyar S. Devitre sold 32,000 shares of the business’s stock in a transaction that occurred on Thursday, September 21st. The stock was sold at an average price of $61.22, for a total value of $1,959,040.00. The disclosure for this sale can be found here. 0.11% of the stock is owned by insiders.

Several large investors have recently made changes to their positions in MO. Jennison Associates boosted its stake in shares of Altria Group by 0.3% during the 3rd quarter. Jennison Associates now owns 47,494 shares of the company’s stock worth $2,584,000 after acquiring an additional 129 shares in the last quarter. Terra Nova Asset Management boosted its stake in shares of Altria Group by 9.4% during the 3rd quarter. Terra Nova Asset Management now owns 13,468 shares of the company’s stock worth $733,000 after acquiring an additional 1,160 shares in the last quarter. Gerstein Fisher boosted its stake in shares of Altria Group by 21.2% during the 3rd quarter. Gerstein Fisher now owns 29,054 shares of the company’s stock worth $1,581,000 after acquiring an additional 5,081 shares in the last quarter. KBC Group boosted its stake in shares of Altria Group by 15.6% during the 3rd quarter. KBC Group now owns 322,608 shares of the company’s stock worth $17,550,000 after acquiring an additional 43,626 shares in the last quarter. Finally, Eagle Asset Management boosted its stake in shares of Altria Group by 1,765.4% during the 3rd quarter. Eagle Asset Management now owns 1,674,572 shares of the company’s stock worth $91,096,000 after acquiring an additional 1,584,804 shares in the last quarter. 61.92% of the stock is currently owned by institutional investors and hedge funds.

Altria Group Company Profile

Altria Group, Inc is a holding company. The Company’s segments include smokeable products, smokeless products and wine. The Company’s subsidiaries include Philip Morris USA Inc (PM USA), which is engaged in the manufacture and sale of cigarettes in the United States; John Middleton Co (Middleton), which is engaged in the manufacture and sale of machine-made cigars and pipe tobacco, and UST LLC (UST), which, through its subsidiaries, including U.S.

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