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Fitch Ratings Places Altria Group Fitch Ratings has placed the 'A' senior unsecured and 'F1' commercial paper ratings of Altria Group, Inc. (Altria) and its consolidated subsidiaries, including Kraft Foods Inc. (Kraft), on Rating Watch Negative. This action follows a $10.1 billion decision against Philip Morris USA Inc. (PM USA), Altria's domestic tobacco subsidiary, by an Illinois trial judge in the Miles case. Judge Nicholas Byron awarded $7.1 billion in compensatory damages to a class of Marlboro Lights and Cambridge Lights smokers and ordered PM USA to pay $3 billion in punitive damages to the state of Illinois. The court stayed the entry of judgment for 30 days. The plaintiffs argued that PM USA had defrauded smokers of its 'light' cigarettes by suggesting 'light' cigarettes were less hazardous than full flavor cigarettes. Fitch's concern centers on the immediate financial flexibility that would be lost and the increase in leverage if Altria needs to draw down bank facilities to fund the current $12 billion appeal bond. Although Illinois is considering bond cap legislation, the state's current bonding requirement to stay execution of the judgment is 100% percent of the judgment plus interest. Altria had credit lines of approximately $15.0 billion at Dec. 31, 2002, with about $14.6 billion undrawn. Kraft has the sole use of $5.0 billion of these facilities. Certain of Altria's credit lines were used to support $3.6 billion of commercial paper borrowings at Dec. 31, 2002. Altria's total debt as of Dec. 31, 2002 was approximately $23.3 billion. The Rating Watch Negative is expected to be resolved upon the resolution of the bonding requirement. Although the vast majority of tobacco litigation class actions are not certified, there is a risk that there may be more class action trials involving light cigarettes and Fitch remains concerned with the precedent this case might set, particularly with the magnitude of the damages and appeal bond requirements. As of Dec. 31, 2002, there were 13 putative class actions pending against PM USA, and in some instances, Altria, on behalf of individuals who purchased and consumed PM USA's brands of Lights or Ultra Lights cigarettes. In addition to the Illinois case, classes have been certified in Massachusetts and Florida. PM USA will seek an immediate review of the Miles decision. The company will appeal this decision, as well as the class certification order that preceded it. Federal Trade Commission is currently considering many of the same issues involved in this case, including that of Federal preemption. PM USA argued that the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act specifies the warnings on cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States.