Tobacco Stocks Climb After Court Ruling
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tobacco stocks rose across the board Thursday after a federal judge dismissed two key parts of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit that seeks to recover billions of dollars spent treating sick smokers.
The American Stock Exchange's Tobacco index, comprising nine tobacco-related issues, closed up 4.2 percent. The Standard & Poor's Tobacco index, which tracks leading cigarette maker Philip Morris Cos. Inc. and top chewing tobacco maker UST Inc., rose 4.3 percent.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in a written opinion that the government could not use the Medical Care Recovery Act, or a second law involving Medicare Secondary Payor insurance provisions as a basis to try to recover government expenses related to sick smokers.
But she did rule the Justice Department could proceed with its two counts under the federal racketeering law to seek to force the tobacco firms to give up their ``ill-gotten'' profits obtained through fraud and deceit since the 1950s.
The ruling was seen as a setback for the government, and Wall Street analysts repeated earlier doubts they have expressed about the government's ability to prevail on the matter.
``I think it's very much up in the air whether it ever gets to trial,'' Goldman Sachs analyst Marc Cohen said.
``This decision is moderately more positive than we had anticipated,'' Salomon Smith Barney analyst Martin Feldman said in a research note following the ruling ``In short, she appeared to be an ideal judge for the Clinton administration, yet, in her long written opinion, she relied on a number of important industry arguments. She accused the government of ``total inaction for over three decades.''
``We continue to believe that this case will be dismissed,'' Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Bonnie Herzog said.''
Aside from purely legal issues, Goldman's Cohen said the case's future also rests in no small part on who wins the White House this November -- Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, or Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican candidate.
The view on Wall Street is that a GOP administration under Bush would be less inclined to pursue the case.
On the New York Stock Exchange, shares of Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company and maker of top-selling Marlboro cigarettes, ended up $1-3/16, or more than 4 percent, at $30-5/16. UST, parent of Copenhagen and Skoal brand smokeless tobacco producer United States Tobacco Co., rose $1-3/4, or more than 8 percent, at $23-1/16. UST is not a defendant in the DOJ case.
Others getting a boost from the ruling included R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holding Inc., the No. 2 U.S. cigarette producer, up 9/16 at $33-1/8 on the NYSE; British-American Tobacco Plc, parent of No. 3 U.S. tobacco firm Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., up 1/8 at $12 on the American Stock Exchange; and Loews Corp., parent of Lorillard Tobacco Co., up 3/4 at $85-3/8 on the NYSE.
Universal Corp., the world's largest leaf tobacco dealer, rose $2-7/16, or nearly 9 percent, to $29-7/8 on the NYSE. Universal is not a defendant in the case.