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Altria 4Q Net Falls 9% On Charges; Chairman, CEO Szymanczyk To Retire

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Altria Group Inc.'s (MO) fourth-quarter earnings fell 9% as several charges masked its revenue growth, while the tobacco giant named Vice Chairman Martin J. Barrington chairman and chief executive to succeed the retiring Michael E. Szymanczyk, effective May 17. Altria also named Vice Chairman David R. Beran, 57, president and chief operating officer, effective May 17. The tobacco company said Szymanczyk, 63 years old, will retire after 23 years with the company, including four years as chairman and CEO of Altria and 12 years as president and CEO of Philip Morris USA. He will remain a consultant for an initial period ending Jan, 31, 2014. Barrington, 58, joined the company in 1993 and will join Altria's board immediately. Beran joined Altria in 1976 and has held leadership positions in finance, operations, planning and information, market research and marketing. The maker of Marlboro and other cigarettes has seen its revenue decline in recent quarters as cigarette volumes declined. But its earnings have generally improved due to increased demand for its smokeless-tobacco products, such as Copenhagen, combined with higher prices and cost cuts. Altria reported a profit of $836 million, or 41 cents a share, down from $919 million, or 44 cents, a year earlier. Excluding items, such as two tobacco and health judgments, exit, integration and acquisition costs, earnings rose to 50 cents from 44 cents. Revenue jumped 3.4% to $6.13 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had most recently forecast earnings of 49 cents on revenue of $4.23 billion. Gross margin edged up to 38.7% from 38%. Revenue from cigarettes rose 2.9%, and smokeless products revenue jumped 6.6%. The volume of its Marlboro cigarettes slipped 0.6%, while other premium-cigarette volume declined 7.2% and discount-cigarette volume jumped 20%. The company also expects full-year earnings of $2.17 to $2.23 a share while analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect $2.19. Shares were trading at $28.94, up 28 cents, premarket. The stock has risen 3.6% over the past three months through Thursday's close. -By Melodie Warner, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2283; melodie.warner@dowjones.com

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