Tobacco Shares Jump After Analyst Report
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shares of U.S. tobacco companies bolted higher on Friday morning, after a prominent Wall Street analyst said Philip Morris and Loews shares were severely undervalued.
The analyst did not raise his 12-month target prices on the stocks, but he did say Philip Morris Cos. Inc. shares could triple in two years and Loews Corp. shares were ''even more severely mispriced.''
In Friday morning trading, Loews shares were showing the highest percentage gain on the New York Stock Exchange, up almost 12 percent, or 8-11/16, at 84-3/4. Philip Morris shares of were up more than 9 percent, or 2-5/8, at 31-5/16. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. shares climbed almost 6 percent, or 1-7/8, to 35-3/16.
``All week they've been acting strong and you're seeing more of that today,'' Credit Suisse First Boston's Bonnie Herzog said, referring to tobacco companies in general. ``I think a lot of investors realize they want to be in these names, especially when they start moving.''
Another industry analyst affirmed that tobacco-related stocks, particularly Philip Morris and Loews, were moving up because of Goldman Sachs analyst Marc Cohen's research note.
In a research note issued on Thursday afternoon, Cohen said a valuation analysis of Philip Morris and Loews indicated that shares of the companies, which both have large non-tobacco units, could rise 50 to 60 percent by next year. Cohen reiterated a 12-month target price of $40 for Philip Morris and $95 for Loews.
Besides being the top U.S. cigarette maker, Philip Morris also owns Kraft, the largest U.S. food maker, and Miller Brewing Co. Loews has majority stakes in cigarette maker Lorillard, insurer CNA Financial Corp., Loews Hotels, Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. and watchmaker Bulova Corp.
Cohen sees ``good likelihood that tobacco company valuations will improve significantly'' in the next 12 to 18 months ``as the threat of aggregated claims cases recedes.''
He believes last month's $145-billion punitive damage verdict in the Engle class action suit will be the ``high-water mark in litigation against the tobacco industry.''
On Tuesday, lawyers said after a brief court hearing in Miami that U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages took no position on a motion filed on behalf of a union health care plan to move the Engle case to federal court from Florida state court. Many analysts do not expect a decision from Ungaro-Benages until early September.
``The litigation environment in general is improving; you've just got a lot of positives going on for the companies,'' Herzog said.
Herzog also noted the strong fundamentals of the companies, particularly Philip Morris, with its pending acquisition of Nabisco Holdings Corp. and the planned Kraft initial public offering, was piquing interest in tobacco shares.
UST Inc. shares were up 1/4 at 16-1/2 after the company, the top U.S. maker of chewing tobacco, announced that the Kentucky court hearing its Conwood lawsuit granted UST's request that the appeal bond in the case be set substantially below the judgement amount, at $500 million.
Herzog called the bond news ``mildly positive'' for UST.
On March 29, a Kentucky judge ordered UST's United States Tobacco Co. to pay $1.05 billion in damages to privately held rival Conwood Corp. in a dispute over U.S. Tobacco's marketing tactics. That amount tripled a jury's call for the company to pay $350 million in damages.