In the past few weeks, the Imperial Brands (LSE:IMB) share price chart has headed down. It’s also down almost 20% over the past year. The share price has now got down to a point where its dividend yield is in the double digits. That is not common for a blue chip company. Obviously a lot of investors don’t feel confident about the company’s prospects.
By contrast, I remain upbeat. I see the Imperial Brands share price as a buying opportunity for my own portfolio.
A new strategy hit the Imperial Brands share price
Last month, the company unveiled a revised strategy. After a new chief executive took office last year, he reviewed the existing business. The new strategy reflects his findings.
It’s not exactly an entirely new strategy, to be clear. In some ways, it is just a slight shift of focus. There isn’t a radical overhaul in prospect. Nonetheless, it seems to have been poorly received. Imperial isn’t the only tobacco company whose share price has struggled lately – rival British American Tobacco has also headed down. This likely reflects some negative sentiment on the sector. Tobacco is seen as a declining market, after all, and the rise in ESG investing could deter some investors from buying tobacco shares. Nonetheless, with the yield now at 10%, Imperial’s strategy hasn’t done what I hoped it would, or improved investor feeling about the Bristol company’s prospects.
Personally, though, I think the new strategy makes sense. It focusses on shoring up cigarette sales in the company’s five biggest markets. While cigarette sales are declining in many markets, they remain the profit engine for Imperial. So making the most from them while it can makes sense to me. It may not be a long-term strategy, but it should help to support profitability in the short- to medium-term even in the face of declining consumer demand.
The future of Imperial
One concern about tobacco companies in general, which certainly applies to Imperial, is whether they can survive in future.
That has been a concern weighing on the Imperial Brands share price for years already. Yet Imperial has kept paying out dividends year after year. It did reduce the dividend last year, although I see that as positive in that it helps the company to pay down some of its substantial debt.
Pricing power should help the company. For example, over five years Imperial expects cigarette volume to decline 2%–3% each year in Europe. But it expects to be able to increase prices 3%–4% each year, so the market value is set to remain the same or even increase slightly despite the volume contraction.
The company’s renewed focus on cigarettes doesn’t mean that it is a one-trick pony with regards to format. It still expects cigarettes to be 80% of the market in 2025, so I appreciate its focus on them. Its approach on next generation products has so far focussed on vaping, with disappointing results. It is now shifting to focus on heated tobacco, which it reckons is more promising.
I don’t see Imperial standing still. The Imperial Brands share price with a 10% yield is attractive to me. I added to my holding after the strategy day. The recent price fall looks like a buying opportunity to me.