Analysts See Cigarette Prices Up a Dime
CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. smokers can expect to see cigarette prices rise about 10 cents a pack in the next several weeks, according to analysts who follow the tobacco industry.
The price hike is partly due to an increase in the federal excise tax and partly because the industry still has the power to raise prices despite a long-term trend of declining consumption, analysts said.
``We are forecasting a modest increase of around 10 cents per pack toward the end of October or November,'' said Bonnie Herzog, a tobacco industry analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. Several other analysts echoed that forecast, though some expect a slightly smaller increase.
``Cigarette prices are still low in the United States,'' said David Adelman, a tobacco industry analyst at Morgan Stanley. ''They're low by global standards relative to our level of income.''
Analysts expect a price increase, led by industry leader Philip Morris Cos. Inc. (MO.N), of about 10 cents a pack. A premium pack of cigarettes like Marlboro currently costs about $3.12, including discounts by manufacturers, said Rob Campagnino, a tobacco industry analyst at Prudential Securities. But prices vary greatly because of local taxes.
A spokesman for the world's largest tobacco company would not comment on speculation about pricing.
Five cents of the expected increase will cover a hike in the federal excise tax on cigarettes that takes effect on Jan. 1. How much more the industry raises prices will be a test of its pricing power, analysts said.
Many analysts say revenue from price hikes more than makes up for any resulting decline in sales volume, as many smokers find it hard to give up the habit.
CSFB's Herzog estimates that a 10 percent price increase leads to only a 3 percent decline in volume.
The industry already raised prices 14 cents a pack in April.
Industry marketing promotions will keep smokers from seeing the full impact of the price increase, at least initially, analysts said.
Still, cigarette consumption in the United States has fallen steadily by about 1 percent to 2 percent a year over the long term as consumers have chosen to stop smoking due to health concerns, rising costs or both, analysts said.
SMOKING AFTER ATTACKS?
Some analysts say cigarette consumption may have increased slightly after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (news - web sites).
``Anecdotally, I've seen evidence to support that,'' Prudential's Campagnino said, citing conversations with wholesalers and retailers. But like other analysts, he cautioned that there has not been enough time since Sept. 11 to see whether consumption has risen significantly.
Some analysts said they had friends who had resumed smoking amid the stress that resulted from the attacks.
At the same time, anti-smoking advertisements and news stories about smoking's ill effects have all but disappeared from the media. News reports are devoted to coverage of events surrounding the attacks and the U.S. response, while anti-tobacco advertising campaigns have ceased for now, said Richard Daynard, head of the Tobacco Products Liability Project and a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston.
``People in the tobacco-control community are sort of taking a deep breath like everybody else,'' he said.
Philip Morris shares were down 92 cents, or 1.8 percent, at $50.10 in Friday afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange (news - web sites), in a falling market. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the stock and the Standard & Poor's Tobacco Index (.SPTOBC) have both risen about 5 percent, while the S&P 500 index (.SPX), has been about flat.