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Tough operating landscape but BAT (4162): BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO MALAYSIA BHD offers attractive dividend yield

KUALA LUMPUR (June 15): Earnings prospects of British American Tobacco (Malaysia) Bhd (BAT) are not expected to be that rosy given the tough battle with illicit cigarettes, in addition to the competition from its new rival — vape.

However, CGS-CIMB noted that while there is little capital appreciation potential left after its share price has climbed 19% year from this year's low, BAT offers a rather decent dividend yield.

According to the research house, BAT's dividend yield would be in the range of 5.9% to 6.7% for the financial year ending Dec 31, 2021 (FY21) until FY23.

The dividend yield is based on an annual net profit forecast of RM289 million in FY21, an almost 22% year-on-year growth. However, it expects the cigarette maker's net profit to be on a decline in the following two years to RM270 million in FY22 and RM253 million in FY23, noting that the downside risks are shrinking sales volumes and pressure on margins as more smokers opt for cheaper products.

This translates into a dividend per share of 99 sen in FY21, 93 sen in FY22 and 87 sen in FY23.

Commenting on the operating landscape, according to CGS-CIMB, BAT told the analyst briefing that the group began to see its sales climb in March, two months after the government banned cigarette trans-shipment, which was blamed for providing a conduit for smuggling cigarettes.

BAT guided that illegal syndicates are now shifting their smuggling channels from ports to smaller jetties, and it is still too early to celebrate a win in the battle against the illicit trade.

"Still, the group expressed confidence that it can generate more quarterly year-on-year sales volume growth in FY21, as it believes that some smokers have reverted to their former favourite legal brands," CGS-CIMB wrote in a research note today.

That said, CGS-CIMB highlighted that BAT is cognisant of the high pricing for legal cigarettes.

"It echoed our view, saying that this 'honeymoon period' of sales growth may come to a halt someday, especially since many Malaysians' incomes are strained due to the economic impact of the series of Movement Control Order imposed since March 18, 2020," it wrote.

The research house commented that although the lockdown may have lured some lapsed smokers and caused people to light up more often, much of the sales growth has come from margin-eroding value-for-money (VFM) cigarettes.

BAT revealed at the briefing that VFM lines' share of sales was about 15% in 1QFY21 and has been growing by about three to four percentage points per annum.

Meanwhile, cheaper and unregulated electronic cigarettes and vaporiser products have also grown in popularity, as according to BAT, vape's share of Malaysia's enlarged tobacco market has risen from about 9% in 2019 to about 12% currently.

According to CGS-CIMB, BAT has appealed to the government to draft a regulation on vape but there has not been much progress as the government has been tied up with fighting against Covid-19 and Parliament has been suspended since January 2021.

BAT's share price was unchanged at RM14.56 today, valuing the group at RM4.16 billion.


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