UST Inc. is a smokeless tobacco company with a long tradition and a recognizable brand name. A strong brand name can have lots of associations with high quality, revenues, soundness, growth, etc. But, this is one of the characteristics that can be like two edged sward. On one side, company with long tradition is expected to to operate in a stable and prosperous way as it always did, but on the other side, company itself can get too self confident and fail to see the newcomers and other threats. UST has ignored newcomers, and now they all have a growing market shares, while only UST Inc. total share, consequently, decreases. Smaller players are expanding their market share primarily by cutting prices, something that UST ignored. UST Inc. decided to fight competition not by decreasing prices, but with overstretching it product lines. However, this might not be the best solution. As the main player in the market, they had the better position to take on and win in the price war. If UST Inc. had been able to take this step, competitors probably would not be able to follow the price decrease imposed by the UST Inc and at least some of them would be shut down. So as one of the biggest drawbacks of UST's policy can be slow reaction to new market conditions and worse of all when they react the reaction is inappropriate.
However, financial situation of the firm plays a very important role in the decision of the bondholder and this company has been one of the most profitable companies America in terms of ROE, ROA ad gross profit margin. Apart from decrease in earnings and cash flow in 1997, UST had continuous increases in sales (10-year compound annual growth rate of 9%), earnings (11%) and cash flow (12%). They are generating their cash flows out of the operations. Thanks to their premium pricing, they are achieving more than average gross profit margin. So, over the years UST's revenues are stable and positive, and generally its statements are positive. The company does not have any problems with its cash flow.
Nonetheless, there is no product differentiation. This can be a negative aspect for the company, since the lawsuits against tobacco industry are mounting and are increasing threat for the company.
One other drawback of the UST Inc. is that they are not in a very good position concerning international expansion. This is because the use of non-smoke tobacco is not widely present outside the North America. Moreover, it is very risky to invest in cigarettes, which made only 2.1% of their sales in 1998, because this investment may be more of a loss than a gain.
The US tobacco industry is characterized by declining volumes, legal challenges, marketing restrictions, taxes, discounting and consolidation, and so the long-term view is not so clear. But still, the company has stable growth, high profits and most likely will not present a problem for the bondholder.
2. Why is UST Inc. considering a leveraged recapitalization after such a long history of conservative debt policy?
Recapitalization is often undertaken with the aim of making the company's capital structure more stable, and sometimes to boost the company's stock price (for example, by issuing bonds and buying stocks, like UST did). Companies that do not want to become hostile takeover targets might undergo a recapitalization by taking on a very large amount of debt, and issuing substantial dividends to their shareholders (this makes the stock riskier, but the high dividends may still make them attractive to shareholders).
3. Should UST, Inc., undertake the $1 billion recapitalization? Calculate the marginal (incremental) effect on UST's value, assuming that the entire recapitalization is implemented immediately (January 1, 1999). a. Assume a 38% tax rate.
b. Prepare a...