Altria continues to sell its brands -- including Marlboro and Merit -- in the United States, but this business is slowly shrinking.
Outside the United States, it's a different story.
For all of 2010, Philip Morris International saw cigarette sales rise 4.1% (thanks to acquisitions), while revenue increased 8.7%.
Looking at sales volume
, Europe remains the company's single most important market. Right now, 38% of Philip Morris' sales come from Europe.
But things are changing. High taxes and new tobacco regulations are pushing down sales in countries such as Greece, Spain and France, places where per-capita tobacco consumption has historically been pretty high.
However, even though fewer smokers in developed countries are lighting up, estimates still say that there will be 1.4 billion smokers globally by 2020. That's up from the 1.3 billion out there today.
So if it's not the United States and it's not Europe, where are all these new smokers coming from?
As countries in these regions expand, there's a substantial increase in the disposable incomes of their citizens. With a little more money in their wallets, a larger percentage of the population can afford premium international cigarettes.
But of course, we're most interested in the dividend -- and its safety.
Starting Oct. 11, Philip Morris International will start paying $0.77 per share every quarter; a 20% dividend increase it recently announced. This amounts to $3.08 per share every year, or a 4.5% yield
This might not sound like much to write home about, but here's the kicker -- PM has raised the dividend 67.4% since 2008.
And the company can afford this increase to its dividend. Like I said earlier, PMI has a payout ratio of 55% over the trailing 12 months, indicating plenty of room for future growth... and a near zero risk of a cut at this time.
So though shares currently yield 4.5%, investors who buy now are likely to see their yield on cost rise over time.
Now, I know investing in cigarettes may not be for everyone, and I am by no means condoning the behavior. But as an analyst, it's my job to find ripe investment opportunities.