By Geoffrey Smith
Investing.com -- Shares in Imperial Brands (LON: IMB ) rose over 4% to their highest since the start of the pandemic, on Thursday, after the tobacco giant announced another £1 billion ($1.13 billion) buyback program.
The company said the move reflects strong trading and broader progress in an ongoing plan to raise profitability and shareholder returns.
The new buyback program will reduce Imperial (JO: IPLJ )'s share count by around 5.5% over the next 12 months and will raise total returns over the period, including dividends, to around £2.3 billion, or 13% of the group's current market value.
Imperial flagged its intentions to increase shareholder returns some time ago, but the announcement of the buyback comes earlier than many had expected. RBC analysts called the timing of the move "a big deal," in providing a buyer of last resort at a time when most stocks and other risk assets are under pressure from the global economic slowdown. Citi analysts said the size of the buyback would represent over 6% of the average daily volume in the stock.
According to RBC's calculations, the move will lift earnings per share by between 4% and 5%, depending on how far Imperial's borrowing costs rise. Imperial has over £8 billion in long-term debt that it needs to service.
The more defensive nature of Imperial's business has led it to outperform most of the stock market this year, with only a handful of defense and energy companies in the FTSE 100 beating its 22% gain since January 1. The company said that it had ended its fiscal year in September in line with its previous guidance of a 1% rise in constant-currency revenue, thanks to a strong rebound in tourism over the summer that boosted duty-free sales.
It ended the year with net debt toward the lower end of its targeted range of 2-2.5 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. However, the company offered no guidance for the fiscal year that started this week.
By 04:10 ET (08:10 GMT), Imperial stock was up 4.4%, just off its intraday high.
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