Altria’s Diversification Into Vaping and Cannabis May Have Too High a Cost

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Diversification is supposed to be a good thing. At what price is another issue entirely. When Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO) decided to expand its efforts into cannabis and vaping, the measures may have come at too much of a cost.

Altria stock was lower on Thursday after the news of a $12.8 billion investment into the Juul vaping company. That makes a tally of $14.6 billion spent, if you include the $1.8 billion into Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group Inc. (NYSE: CRON).

Credit ratings agencies have issued two different ratings actions on the heels of this larger transaction. One was an outright downgrade and one was a change in the outlook.

Standard & Poor’s has lowered Altria’s credit rating by two notches to BBB from A− in the call. S&P also said its outlook is now stable. This was after the $12.8 billion investment in e-cigarette maker Juul and its prior $1.8 billion investment in Cronos. S&P doesn’t believe that either investment will bring any significant returns in the near term. And with Altria’s high shareholder returns, S&P also does not expect any meaningful deleveraging over the next few years.

Also worth noting was that S&P sees a growing uncertainty over how the FDA and state regulators could affect the tobacco and non-tobacco products

Moody’s has maintained Altria’s A3 long-term credit rating but revised its outlook to negative from stable. Moody’s maintains that Altria still has strong earnings and cash flow and these investments now likely mean that the company will not need to make any significant debt-funded investments in the next few years.

Altria’s shares were last seen trading down 2.5% at $50.12, which is down almost 33% from its highs of 2018, and its shares hit a new 52-week low on Thursday. Altria now has a 52-week trading range of $49.29 to $72.95. Its market cap is roughly $94 billion, and its dividend yield is currently 6.4% with its shares down this low.

Sometimes diversification just comes at too high of a price. That said, many investors have shied away from the future of smoking cigarettes.

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