Altria Group Inc.'s (MO) A3 long-term credit rating, and its Prime-2 short-term rating, were affirmed at Moody's Investor Service, although the credit rating agency revised the outlook to negative from stable, following the cigarette maker's announcement of a $12.8 billion investment ( ) in e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. That leaves Altria's long-term rating four notches above junk status, while S&P Global Ratings had earlier downgraded Altria's ratings ( ) two notches to BBB, which is just two notches above junk. Moody's said its affirmation of Altria's rating reflects strong earnings and cash flow, its focus on providing different types of tobacco products and the expectation that the company won't make any more significant debt-funded investments in the next few years. "The investment is strategically beneficial as Altria broadens its e-cigarette platform through investing in the largest and fastest growing e-vapor company," said Moody's analyst Kevin Cassidy. Meanwhile, the negative ratings outlook reflects concerns with "regulatory risks associated with the evolving e-cigarette and cannabis markets." Earlier this month, Altria announced a $1.8 billion investment in cannabis company Cronos Group Inc. (CRON.T). Altria's stock dropped 2.9% in morning trade. It has lost 20% over the past three months, while the S&P 500 has declined 15%. (This replaces a previous item that incorrectly reported the amount of Altria's investment in Juul. It has been corrected.)
-Tomi Kilgore; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 21, 2018 06:48 ET (11:48 GMT)
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