Positive Sentiment Lifts Tobacco Stocks
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. tobacco stocks rose on Monday with confidence in the sector growing amid a more benign litigation outlook and speculation that Philip Morris Cos Inc., the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, was interested in buying Nabisco Holdings Co
Shares of Philip Morris, the world's biggest tobacco company as well as the owner of Kraft Food Corp -- the biggest U.S. food company -- were up nearly 10 percent, or 2 3/8 to 26 9/16 by midday. The stock was the most active on the New York Stock Exchange.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Corp., the No. 2 U.S. cigarette maker, climbed nearly 9 percent, or 2 1/16 to 25 1/4. Shares of Lowe's Corp., which operates Lorillard Tobacco Co, rose 3 to 60 1/2.
The S&P Tobacco Index was up more than 10 percent at
1365.46, a rise of 127 points in early afternoon trading.
Cigarette makers, whose share prices have languished over the past year, got a boost in early May when the Florida state legislature passed a bill relieving them of much of the risk involved with posting a security bond in a landmark Engle class-action trial in Miami. Before the legislation, the industry faced posting a bond worth billions of dollars to file an appeal, threatening them with bankruptcy.
With the litigation cloud dissipating and speculation that New York-based Philip Morris may want to acquire a major food company like Nabisco, industry experts said investors are coming back to the sector.
``The stocks are moving up based on a positive sentiment shift in terms of investors digesting that the worse is behind these companies,'' analyst William Pecoriello of Sanford Bernstein told Reuters. ``Engle is not a bankrupting threat and Philip Morris is back making food acquisition offers.''
Analysts have pointed to Philip Morris as the front-runner in the bidding for Nabisco Holdings Corp., which makes Oreo Cookies and Ritz crackers. The Wall Street Journal reported that Philip Morris had made an offer in its Monday edition.
Offers for Nabisco Group Holdings, which owns 80 percent of the food company, are due on Monday, analysts have said. Carl Icahn offered $16 a share for the company in late March and Nabisco Group Holding initiated the bidding process in early April following Icahn's offer.
Salomon Smith Barney analyst Martin Feldman said Philip Morris is likely to seek a major U.S. food acquisition ``and we expect it to bid aggressively for Nabisco (NA) in the near future.''
Officials at Philip Morris and Nabisco Group, which saw its stock rise 2 7/8 to 22 5/8 Monday, would not comment on reports that Philip Morris had bid for the cookie and cracker company.