Altria continues to sell its brands, including Marlboro and Merit, in the United States, but that business is slowly shrinking.
Outside the United States, it's a different story.
For all of 2011, Philip Morris International saw its cigarette sales continue to rise, while revenues increased 14%.
Where is all of this new business coming from?
The emerging markets
In particular, sales to Asia increased nearly 35% in 2011. As economies in developing 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.
Currently, Philip Morris International pays $0.77 per share every quarter. That amounts to $3.08 per share every year, or a 3.7% yield
at recent prices.
This might not sound like much to write home about, but here's the kicker -- Philip Morris has raised the dividend 67.4% since 2008.
And the company can afford to keep increasing the dividend. Like I said earlier, PMI has a payout ratio
of 55%, indicating plenty of room for future growth... and a near-zero risk of a cut at this time.
So though the shares
currently yield 3.7%, 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. But as an analyst, it's my job to find investment opportunities.