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24-07-2012 08:31:00

Imperial Tobacco Revenue Rises But Volumes Fall

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By Simon Zekaria

LONDON--Imperial Tobacco Group PLC (IMT.LN) Tuesday posted a rise in revenue, boosted by price increases, but strong demand in emerging markets wasn't enough to avert a fall in volumes.

The world's No. 4 global tobacco group by sales said it is trading in line with expectations, posting a 3% rise in tobacco revenue in the nine months to June 30 on a constant currency basis.

Still, total stick volumes, which combine cigarette and fine-cut tobacco, fell 3% in the same period. For the beleaguered Spanish market, the decline was 11%.

"Challenging conditions persist in some markets, but we have a strong record of delivering growth in this environment and remain in a good position to continue maximizing value for shareholders," said Chief Executive Alison Cooper.

Imperial is building its position in developing economies such as Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia to offset a slowdown in developed markets, where consumers are struggling with tough economic conditions.

Smokers in developed markets are switching to low-cost brands as tax increases, spending cuts, unemployment and inflationary pressures squeeze discretionary spending, particularly in Europe.

The trend is also affecting Imperial's rivals. Market leader Philip Morris International Inc. (PM) last week reported a 3.8% fall in second-quarter net profit, attributed partly to weaker volumes in debt-laden Europe. And in March, British American Tobacco PLC (BATS.LN) recorded a slight fall in full-year volumes, even as profit went up. BAT is due to report its first-half earnings on Wednesday.

Like its peers, Bristol, England-based Imperial has offset soft volumes with price increases in selected markets to maintain and build profit margins.

The company's first-half net profit, reported in May, was hit by higher taxation and one-off finance items. It is targeting a full-year dividend payout ratio ahead of adjusted earnings-per-share growth.

Imperial Tobacco shares closed Monday at 2,449 pence, valuing the company at GBP24.3 billion.

Write to Simon Zekaria at simon.zekaria@dowjones.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 24, 2012 02:31 ET (06:31 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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