MOST RECENT CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
MOST RECENT SLIDE PRESENTATION
MOST RECENT CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
MOST RECENT SLIDE PRESENTATION
UPDATED CORPORATE DESCRIPTIONS: THE ONE GROUP (STKS), WENDY’S (WEN), DUTCH BROS (BROS), BLACK RIFLE COFFEE (BRCC), CARROL’S (TAST), FIESTA RESTAURANT (FRGI), BBQ HOLDINGS (BBQ) – with transcripts
THE ONE GROUP HIOSPITALITY
BRC – BLACK RIFLE COMPANY
THE WEEK THAT WAS, ENDING 3-25 – ANALYSTS ALREADY LIKED WINGSTOP, WENDY’S, FIRST WATCH, DARDEN, ONE COMPANY UPGRADED, WHICH WE WROTE UP A MONTH AGO
FIRST WATCH (FWRG) AND DARDEN (DRI) PROVIDE GOOD REPORTS, HARD NOT TO LIKE THEM. ARCO DORADOS (ARCO) GETS UPGRADED
RE: First Watch (FWRG), ANDY BARISH, JEFFREY BERNSTEIN, GOLDMAN SACHS, continue to like it. ANDREW CHARLES wants to see more (I guess).
RE: Darden (DRI), BRIAN VACCARO, LAUREN SILBERMAN, JAMES RUTHERFORD, JEFFREY BERNSTEIN, analysts at Morgan Stanley all continue to like it. NICK SETYAN wants to see more (I guess).
RE: Wingstop (WING), NICK SETYAN likes it, in spite of Charlie Morrison leaving.
RE: Wendy’s (WEN), IVAN FEINSETH likes it.
RE: Arcos Dorados (ARCO), ROBERT FORD upgrades to BUY.
RELEVANT TRANSCRIPTS FROM MOST RECENT CONFERENCE CALLS.
UPDATED CORPORATE DESCRIPTIONS: WENDY’S, DUTCH BROS, DINE BRANDS, POTBELLY, SWEETGREEN AND RED ROBIN with conference call transcripts
Dutch Bros (BROS)
Dine Brands (DIN)
Red Robin (RRGB)
UPDATED CORPORATE DESCRIPTIONS – PAPA JOHN’S, RESTAURANT BRANDS, RUTH’S CHRIS, TEXAS ROADHOUSE, WENDY’S, YUM BRANDS
UPDATED CORPORATE DESCRIPTIONS – SHORTLY WILL INCLUDE VIRTUALLY EVERY PUBLICLY HELD RESTAURANT COMPANY – to be updated each quarter
The summaries we show, while not complete in detail and involve a number of approximations, provide a good starting point for our own investment banking activities and will hopefully do the same for our readers.
RESTAURANT COMPANIES TO REPORT THIS WEEK: FWRG, DNUT, TAST, RRGB, ARCO,WEN, BROS, FRGI, KRUS
The following are transcripts from the conference calls following release of earnings:
DNUT PRESENTATION- SLIDES
ARCOS SLIDE PRESENTATION
THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY FROM 1971 TO 2019, IT’S A HORSERACE !!
You will enjoy this ! The race from 1971 to 2019 !! (The year is at bottom of graphic.)
McDonald’s remains dominant, Starbucks comes on strong, Subway large but stumbling !
WENDY’S (WEN) DOWN OVER 10% TODAY – IT’S ABOUT BREAKFAST, RIGHT?? – NOT EXACTLY
Wendy’s stock is under a lot of pressure today, as a result of their entry (again) into the breakfast fray. The company said that they will spend about $20M to support the breakfast initiative. Analysts are obviously reacting skeptically, since WEN has previously experimented with breakfast, in 1985, 2007 and 2012. Since $20M amounts to less than $.09/share, it seems like a reduction of $2.70/share (as this written) is a bit overdone. This is like when your wife criticizes you for not putting the top back on the toothpaste. It’s not about the toothpaste 😊
The chart below shows the outstanding price performance of WEN over the last five years. It has recently been selling for over 30x EPS estimates for 2019, and about 20x trailing EBITDA.
The table below provides some broad financial results over the last eight years, including the Arby’s divestiture. There have been lots of “puts and takes” from the income statement, and the GAAP earnings per share have fluctuated accordingly. We show both the GAAP results and the Adjusted Earnings Per Share from Continuing Operations.
Operating Profit, as reported, was up from 2011 to 2014, has been “flat” from 2014 through 2018. As shown on the annual cash flow statement, we view Net Cash Generated from Operating Activities as a reasonable proxy for how a company is really progressing. Though fluctuating, up and down during the period, THIS NUMBER IS LOWER NOW THAN IT WAS IN 2011. For our purposes here, we can (charitably) call it “flat” as well.
EPS has been up sharply from 2011 until 2018, both adjusted or by GAAP. That “progress”, however, has been, since 2014 especially, the result of borrowing $1.3 billion to buy back about 150 million shares of stock. (Ain’t low interest rates grand?? ) Setting aside the modest remaining equity, reduced from the buyback: with $2.8 billion of long term debt against calendar ’18 EBITDA of $379M ($250M of pretax, pre-interest, continuing operating profit + $129M of Depreciation), with debt now at 7.4x TTM EBITDA, one would have to conclude that this financial lever has been pulled.
Just a week ago we wrote an article describing how the stock of lots of companies (we referenced Starbucks (SBUX) and Restaurant Brands (QSR), in the wake of the breakdown of ULTA and OLLI), are “priced for perfection”, are vulnerable to the possibility of even a small disappointment. Wendy’s now comes into play from that standpoint. Over the last five years, WEN has provided essentially flat Operating Profit and Net Cash from Operating Activities. Earnings Per Share have been increased through leveraging the balance sheet and acquiring a great deal of stock. Down over 10% as we conclude this piece, WEN still sells at 30x estimated earnings for calendar ’19 and 19x our calculation of ‘18x EBITDA from continuing operations. Setting aside the prospect of success with breakfast, which will be expensive and time consuming, and is the focus of virtually all of today’s press coverage: We are not long or short WEN common stock, because we cannot predict how long investors will embrace “asset light” and “free cash flow” companies (this one has $2.8B of debt to service), but, by all standards we consider reasonable, WEN is more than fully valued.
ASSET LIGHT FRANCHISING – COMPLAINTS FROM FRANCHISEES – LET’S CLEAR THE AIR!!
The long term investment appeal of well established franchising companies is accepted by the investment community. Most of the prominent franchisors’ equities sell at price to trailing twelve month EBITDA multiples in the mid to high teens (Denny’s (DENN), Dine Brands (DIN), Dunkin’ Brands (DNKN), Pollo Loco (LOCO), McDonald’s (MCD), Restaurant Brands (QSR), Wendy’s (WEN), even higher in a couple of instances Domino’s (DPZ), Shake Shack (SHAK), Wingstop (WING), lower in a number of “challenged” situations like Jack in the Box (JACK), Red Robin (RRGB), Brinker (EAT), Fiesta Rest. (FRGI).
The attraction of asset light franchisors revolves around the presumably free cash flow for franchisors, a steady stream of royalty income unburdened by capital expenditures to build stores. The operating leverage is at the store level. Franchisees are responsible for building the stores, then controlling food costs, labor, rent and all the other operating line items. Franchisors receive the royalty stream and have the obligation of supporting the system with brand development, site selection advice, marketing support, and operating supervision. These supporting functions, it should be noted, are optional to a degree, and we have written extensively about system support sometimes being short changed by corporate priorities such as major stock buybacks.
THE CURRENT WORD, IN THE FIELD, AS WE HEAR IT
We acknowledge that in every franchise system there will be some operators less satisfied than others. In the same way, customer reviews on Yelp or Facebook are more frequently written by critics. Bad news is more noteworthy and more customers are inclined to criticize than applaud, so we have to listen to the complaints but dig further for the reality. With that in mind, we hear the following from franchisees of various restaurant systems:
“I’ve been in this business for thirty years, and I’ve never seen it this bad. Everyone is making money but me; the landlords, the franchisor, the banks. My margins have been killed, and I’m up against my lending convenants”.
“All the franchisors want to do is build sales to build their royalties. The dollar deals are trading people down. My franchisor doesn’t care about my margins. I can’t maintain my margins, especially with the increasing cost of labor, let alone build it”.
“The franchisor is putting pressure on me to sell, even though I’ve always been considered a good operator, with high performance scores. I’m up to date on my development agreement, but they want somebody else to take me out, and the new buyer will agree to what I consider to be a ridiculously aggressive development contract”.
“The franchisor has replaced experienced long term field support with lower priced (and inexperienced) younger people. They’re cutting corporate overhead, but these kids, who never ran a store, are telling me to how to control costs.””
“I’m doing my best with the development objectives, but it is almost impossible to build stores with today’s economics. Rents are too high, labor costs are killing me, and I can’t raise prices in this promotional environment”.
“As if things aren’t tough enough, I’m being nickeled and dimed with demand for higher advertising contributions and fees on services (including software) that I thought would be provided”.
The valuations provided to the publicly held companies do not reflect the situation as described by the admittedly anonymous franchisees. The commentators quoted above don’t want to aggravate their franchisor, and we don’t want to be unfair or misleading to particular companies by relying on just a few conversations, though they do support one another. For the most part, franchisees are strongly discouraged from talking to the press or investment community. The companies will say that “competitive” issues require some secrecy, but there are few secrets in this industry.
The optimistic view, as represented by the valuations in the marketplace, is that the comments above are not typical or representative of the health of the subject franchise systems. Allow me to provide a short story which leads to a suggestion.
A SHORT STORY
Twenty six years ago, in 1992, IHOP had just come public. I was a sell side analyst, thought the numbers were interesting and the stock was reasonably priced. The company, led by the now deceased CEO Kim Herzer, invited me to attend their franchisee convention, which I did. I obviously had the opportunity to interface with many franchisees and it was clear that, while all was not perfect, the franchisor was providing a great deal of support that was embraced by an enthusiastic franchise community. IHOP stock tripled over several years for me and my clients who owned millions of shares. I attended several more of their annual conventions and maintain some of those relationships to this day. Obviously, the conviction I gained from their open attitude was critical to the success of the investment. I should add, that many of those buyers in 1992 owned the stock for many years, not living and dying on quarterly reports.
As you are no doubt by now anticipating, my suggestion to publicly held franchising companies: open up your franchisee conventions to the investment community. The companies may quickly respond that lenders are already invited to franchise conventions, but franchisees are unlikely to express their system oriented concerns when they are making a pitch to a potential lender. Companies may also respond that their lawyers think it would be a bad idea, not consistent with full disclosure and analysts would be getting “inside information”. Let’s not allow the lawyers to provide “cover”. A good lawyer will provide a solution to the problem, not just provide the pitfalls. Analysts attending a franchise convention are not being told what sales or profits are going to be. Attending a franchise convention is a “channel check”, no more than talking to a supplier or customer of a manufacturing company, which any decent analyst will do.
The anecdotal critical comments, as described above, have likely been heard by others, but may be atypical of most restaurant franchising companies. There are no secrets in this business. One of the investment appeals of this industry is its transparency. Notable news is going to leak out anyway. The objective of any publicly held company is to build stock ownership by well informed investors. Investment analysts pride themselves on their ability to “build a mosaic”, enhance the information provided in quarterly reports, SEC filings, and conference calls, with “channel checks”. What channel check would be more pertinent than meeting the franchisees of a company that is dependent on franchisee success? Putting it another way, and taking the highest valuation relative to EBITDA as an example: Wingstop (WING) is a company I have the highest regard for. However, you could call it irresponsible to pay almost fifty times trailing EBITDA for Wingstop stock (and I haven’t) if I couldn’t talk to franchisees of my own choosing?
There’s no particular need to invite this writer if I’m not considered influential enough. I have not spoken to these analysts on this subject, but qualified industry followers such as David Palmer, Nicole Reagan, Matt DiFrisco, David Tarantino, Jeff Bernstein, Andy Barish, Bob Derrington, Mark Kalinowski, Michal Halen, Gary Occhiogrosso, Howard Penney, Jonathan Maze, Nicholas Upton, John Hamburger and John Gordon provide the beginning of an invitation list. I rest my case.
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