Debt Policy at Ust Inc.

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Executive Summary

As the leading manufacturer in the moist smokeless tobacco industry, UST Inc. has long been recognized by its ability to generate high profit using low financial leverage. With a dominant market share of 77%, the company maintains a pricing power that allows it to institute annual price increases without losing costumers. However, UST’s market share was eroded significantly in recent years by price-value competitors who enter the market with lower prices. Although UST responded to these threat by introducing new products, market share still decreased by 1.6% over past 7 years. In addition, UST is also exposed to an unfavorable legislative environment, in which the company is under advertising and product promotion restrictions. The increasing business risks force management of UST to consider a recapitalization plan in which UST borrows up to $1 billion to repurchase its stocks. The marginal effect of the recapitalization will be a $380 million increase in firm value, which is the present value of interest tax shield. Besides the recapitalization benefit, management also needs to notice the costs of recapitalization, which include higher bankruptcy costs and a potential of lower credit rating. UST has a high and constant dividend payout history since 1912. The recapitalization will expose more risks to shareholders since revenues will be used to pay interest before pay dividends. Thus, the recapitalization may hamper future dividend payments.

Background

Having long been the leading company in the moist smokeless tobacco industry, UST Inc. was famous for its product innovation, dominate market share, and pricing adjusting power. However, as the competition of the moist smokeless tobacco industry became more intense and the legislative environment became more unfavorable, UST is facing several business risks:

1.Lose of market share. Relying on its superior products and innovation ability, UST used to control most of the moist...
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