Should I Invest In British American Tobacco Plc?

The Motley Fool

To me, capital growth and dividend income are equally important. Together, they provide the total return from any share investment and, as you might expect, my aim is to invest in companies that can beat the total return delivered by the wider market.

To put that aim into perspective, the FTSE 100 has provided investors with a total return of around 3% per annum since January 2008.

Quality and value

If my investments are to outperform, I need to back companies that score well on several quality indicators and buy at prices that offer decent value.

So this series aims to identify appealing FTSE 100 investment opportunities and today I'm looking at British American Tobacco (LSE: BATS) (NYSE: BTI.US), the cigarette maker.

With the shares at 3632p, BATS's market cap. is £69,797 million.

This table summarises the firm's recent financial record:

Year to December






Revenue (£m)






Net cash from operations (£m)






Adjusted earnings per share






Dividend per share






British American Tobacco continues to win market share against a background of declining cigarette volumes in the industry as a whole. Indeed, pockets of growth, such as in Indonesia, the Middle East, South Korea, Germany, Poland, Pakistan, Chile, Canada and Italy are tending to be offset by declines in places like Brazil, Russia, Japan, Spain, the Middle East, Uzbekistan and Spain. That strikes me as being a bit like winning an up race on a down elevator. The firm's active share-repurchase programme can't keep the share price alight forever.

The addictive nature of the product makes the shares defensive and they've had a good run recently. But with the directors talking of fragile markets, the forward dividend yield of around 4.5% doesn't tempt me, as the other half of the total-return equation, capital gains, seems vulnerable.

British American Tobacco's total-return potential

Let's examine five indicators to help judge the quality of the company's total-return potential:

1. Dividend cover: adjusted earnings covered last year's dividend around 1.5 times. 3/5

2. Borrowings: net gearing is around 111% with net debt about 1.6 times operating profit. 4/5

3. Growth: flat revenue and cash flow with rising earnings.3/5

4. Price to earnings: a forward 14.5 looks full against growth and yield expectations. 3/5

5. Outlook: satisfactory recent trading and a cautiously optimistic outlook. 3/5

Overall, I score BATS 16 out of 25, which inclines me to be cautious about the firm's potential to out-pace the wider market's total return, going forward.

Foolish Summary

This is a neutral set of numbers against my indicators, and insufficiently exciting to tempt me into buying or watching the shares. However, a decent forward yield and under-control debt may encourage some income-seekers.

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