Just last month, we were being warned that interest rates were ready to move meaningfully higher as inflation and the Federal Reserve were teaming up to end the massive low interest rate paradigm we have been stuck in for years. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, rates have dived lower, with the 10-year Treasury trading at a 1.32% yield, down from near 1.70% at the end of May. The benchmark 30-year Treasury bond is back at the 1.94% level. These are the lowest interest rate levels since last winter.
For income investors, this is another setback in what has become over a ten-year problem. While rates certainly could rise again, one thing seems certain: the Federal Reserve will not raise rates until it is positive the economy is back at full strength. The only move the Fed looks poised to make in the near term is the beginning of the tapering of the $120 billion per month purchase of Treasury and mortgage debt.
We screened the BofA Securities research universe looking for blue chip stocks rated Buy that paid at least a 4% dividend. We found five that are very appealing now to growth and income investors. While all are rated Buy, it is important to remember that no single analyst report should be used as a sole basis for any buying or selling decision.
This maker of tobacco products offers value investors a great entry point now and was hit recently as cigarette sales have slowed. Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO) is the parent company of Philip Morris USA (cigarettes), UST (smokeless), John Middleton (cigars), Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Philip Morris Capital. PMUSA enjoys a 51% share of the U.S. cigarette market, led by its top cigarette brand Marlboro.
Altria also owns over 10% of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer. In March 2008, it spun off its international cigarette business to shareholders. In December 2018, the company acquired 35% of Juul Labs, and it has purchased a 45% stake in cannabis company Cronus for $1.8 billion.
BofA Securities is very favorable toward the company’s plans for the future:
Management presented at CAGNY (Consumer Analyst Group of New York) where it discussed a new corporate focus on ESG, additional details on its IQOS plans and its “Moving beyond smoking” 10-yr plan. Smokeables (cigarettes/cigars) will remain an important part of its strategy, providing funding behind its long-term growth and shareholder returns. Over the last 5-yrs, smokeable and other comprehensive income grew at a 5.5% compounded annual growth rate despite volume declines.
Shareholders receive a 7.35% dividend. The analyst has a $58 target price on the shares, while the consensus target is lower at $53.89. Altria stock closed on Wednesday at $46.79 per share.