Tag Archives: WING

THE WEEK THAT WAS, ENDING MAY 20, JUST A FEW RATINGS CHANGES – with relevant transcripts, and WEEK TO COME

THE WEEK THAT WAS, ENDING MAY 20, JUST A FEW RATINGS CHANGES – with relevant transcripts, and WEEK TO COME

From earnings reports in prior weeks: Jack in the Box and Wingstop maintained at Neutral and Outperform, respectively

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4489787-jack-in-box-inc-s-jack-ceo-darin-harris-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4507053-wingstop-inc-s-wing-ceo-michael-skipworth-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

From a week ago: JIM SANDERSON and BRIAN VACCARO upgrade Shake Shack to Buy and MARKET PERFORM, respectively.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4507719-shake-shack-inc-shak-ceo-randy-garutti-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

THE WEEK TO COME: only two companies scheduled to report

Thursday 5-26 Before Market Open Jack In The Box (JACK) Q2

https://events.q4inc.com/attendee/445663988

Thursday 5-26 After Market Close Red Robin (RRGB)  Q1 

https://ir.redrobin.com/news-events/ir-calendar/detail/19110/q1-2022-earnings-conference-call

 

 

THE WEEK THAT WAS, ENDING 5/6, LOT’S OF EARNINGS REPORTS, A FEW RATINGS CHANGES, MORE ACTION IN THE WEEK TO COME

THE WEEK THAT WAS, ENDING 5/6, LOT’S OF EARNINGS REPORTS, SEVERAL RATINGS CHANGES, MANY MORE DATA POINTS IN THE WEEK TO COME  – links to transcripts provided

Starbucks reports, only change is David Palmer upgrading. Nobody wants to be negative. NICOLE REAGAN, JOHN GLASS, CHRIS CARRIL and JON TOWER stay neutral. LAUREN SILBERMAN, JEFFREY  BERNSTEIN, DAVID PALMER and ANDREW CHARLES continue to like it.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4506511-starbucks-corporation-sbux-ceo-howard-schultz-on-q2-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

Denny’s reports, NICK SETYAN still likes it.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4506545-dennys-corporations-denn-ceo-john-miller-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4506597-dennys-corporation-2022-q1-results-earnings-call-presentation

Restaurant Brands reports, only change is CHRIS O’CULL downgrading to HOLD. M.Stanley analyst maintains underweight. JON TOWER is neutral, while CHRIS CARRIL AND LAUREN SILBERMAN like it here.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4506236-restaurant-brands-international-inc-qsr-ceo-jose-cil-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call

Yum Brands reports. No changes. LAUREN SILBERMAN is NEUTRAL while JON TOWER says BUY.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4506810-yum-brands-inc-s-yum-ceo-david-gibbs-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

Brinker reports (and disappoints). DAVID PALMER downgrades to IN-LINE.  BRIAN MULLAN, NICK SETYAN, and M.STANLEY analyst are NEUTRAL. BRIAN VACCARO and ERIC GONZALES continue to be positive.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4506810-yum-brands-inc-s-yum-ceo-david-gibbs-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

Wingstop reports (and disappoints). M. Stanley  analyst, NICK SETYAN, JON TOWER and ANDREW CHARLES all stick with it.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4507053-wingstop-inc-s-wing-ceo-michael-skipworth-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

SHAKE SHACK reports. Everybody maintains. LAUREN SILBERMAN and BRIAN MULLEN are neutral, while PETER SALEH & NICK SETYAN like it.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4507719-shake-shack-inc-shak-ceo-randy-garutti-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

PAPA JOHN’s reports. LAUREN SILBERMAN and NICK SETYAN continue to like it while BRIAN MULLAN is neutral.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4507346-papa-johns-international-inc-pzza-ceo-robert-lynch-on-q1-2022-results-earnings-call

 

THE WEEK TO COME:  MORE DATA POINTS

5-09 After Market Close RCI Hospitality Holdings RICK

https://seekingalpha.com/pr/18781450-rci-2q22-call-on-twitter-spaces-on-monday-may-9th-first-to-use-twitters-audio-platform-for

5-10 Before Market Open First Watch Restaurant Gr FWRG

https://viavid.webcasts.com/starthere.jsp?ei=1537799&tp_key=a214d47caa

5-11 Before Market Open Wendy’s WEN

https://event.on24.com/wcc/r/3723491/E08AEE34680249F3308CCBD4D8C0EEFE

5-11 Before Market Open Krispy Kreme DNUT

https://edge.media-server.com/mmc/p/2m66abcw

5-11 After Market Close Dutch Bros BROS

https://events.q4inc.com/attendee/370340001

5-12 Before Market Open Carrols Restaurant Group TAST

https://viavid.webcasts.com/starthere.jsp?ei=1541750&tp_key=1245ec6318

 

 

 

 

STARBUCKS REORGANIZES, BRINKER AND WINGSTOP DISAPPOINT THIS MORNING, ANECDOTAL FIELD REPORT ILLUSTRATES THE CHALLENGE!

STARBUCKS REORGANIZES AS SCHULTZ RETURNS, BRINKER AND WINGSTOP DISAPPOINT THIS MORNING, THE FOLLOWING ANECDOTAL REPORT  ILLUSTRATES THE CHALLENGE!

We wrote our “Hope” anecdote a couple of days ago, to be published as part of our monthly column the 5/15 issue of the Restaurant Finance Monitor. However, in the wake of (1) Howard Schultz’ temporary return to Starbucks, his decision to withdraw guidance for ’22 and invest one billion dollars “to uplift Starbucks’ employees and The Store Experience and (2) the disappointing results reported this morning at Brinker and Wingstop, the following field trip observations are worth thinking about today. There will be conference  calls today at 10am for EAT and WING. From an investment standpoint, we have always valued the “transparency” of this industry.

Hope is not a strategy – “Culture”, or “hospitality quotient” as Danny Meyer has put it, seems difficult to define but is recognizable when you experience it.

As a positive example: I visited a First Watch restaurant last week for the first time, around 9:00 am on a Monday morning. As I noticed that the entrance door and adjacent window glass were sparkling clean (the first tell), a young woman with a big smile opened the door and ushered us in. We sadly didn’t see any more of her but the entire service team was equally friendly, made easy eye contact, tried to be helpful (without being intrusive), obviously happy to be there. The menu was appealing and well priced, the coffee included flavored creamers and we both enjoyed the blueberry pancakes. More important than the food, because you can get coffee and pancakes in lots of places, was the dining experience. I came back to NYC and bought the stock (FWRG, trading at about 12x trailing EBITDA).

On the other hand: That same night, we had dinner at a publicly held full-service restaurant chain. There were tables available but we waited for twelve minutes to be seated, so our assumption was that they were short of staff. We were handed menus, a bit worn, as we were seated but it was six or seven minutes before a server showed up to take our drink orders. The appetizer arrived in an acceptable amount of time but the entrees took way too long. As we waited, there seemed to be quite a few service people in the area but it felt like they were a bit confused. The activity was not frenzied but it seemed less than organized or purposeful. After waiting too long for our entrees, and finally making eye contact with our waitress, I said: “So I guess our entrees will be here soon?” Her response: “I hope so”, as she disappeared from view, is as much as we need to know. My basic reaction was one of sympathy, since this girl’s orientation had obviously been far from adequate in today’s  labor environment.  It must be a daunting challenge to hire, train and motivate the rapidly turning over service staff in a high volume full service restaurant. On top of that, the kitchen staff may not do their part, and the service person who just happens to be on the firing line will get discouraged pretty quickly.

If restaurant management is throwing service personnel out on the floor,  to interface with customers (who are increasingly hard to come by these days),  “hoping” for a good outcome, there’s some serious work to be done.

Roger Lipton

P.S. Four and one half years ago, we wrote about Starbucks as follows:

August, 2017

IT’S A ‘BUM RAP”, STARBUCKS DOES NOT SELL “$5.00 CUPS OF COFFEE”

It’s a “bum rap”. The media, and the skeptics like to point to the folly of customers paying $5.00 for a cup of coffee. However, we priced (before tax) Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Horton’s in Detroit (to avoid NYC prices) this morning. Starbucks’ 12 oz.“tall” coffee is $2.20, Dunkin Donuts 10 oz. “small” is $1.75, and Horton’s 10 oz. “small” is $1.58. Per oz., Starbucks costs $.183, Dunkin’ is $.175 and Horton’s is $.158. If you want a latte’, the gap is wider ($.312 per oz. at Starbucks, $.253 at Dunkin’, and a materially cheaper $.222 at Horton’s). A latte’ costs more at Starbucks, but Dunkin’ and Horton’s don’t even offer the Soy Latte’ that I order. I can’t vouch for the “quality” of latte’ at Dunkin’ or Horton’s. You can judge for yourself whether the service component, or the type of coffee, is worth the price premium at SBUX but, in any event, it is not a “$5.00 cup of coffee”, and Starbucks’ prices are not grossly higher than the competition.

THE STARBUCKS DIFFERENCE

In my opinion, what has distinguished Starbucks over the years has been the corporate “culture”, which they have incredibly duplicated in 27,000 stores worldwide. Their employees, selected, trained, and motivated to an unmatched degree in food service, look you in the eye, remember your name and drink if you are anything close to a regular customer, and become part of your daily social life. A couple of years ago, about the time that Chipotle ran into trouble, I asked a SBUX employee if he knew anything about Chipotle. This young man, perhaps 18 or 19 years old, told me he used to work at Chipotle, then gestured kind of frenetically with his hands saying: “at Chipotle it was all about speed. Starbucks makes me a better person”. That’s what Starbucks has been all about, creating a uniquely welcoming retail environment that produces “better persons” of their employees.

THE TIMES THEY ARE A’CHANGIN’

BARRON’S MAGAZINE this morning has a front cover entitled THE FUTURE OF COFFEE (AND RETAIL). The subtitle reads “Starbucks has succeeded where Silicon Valley hasn’t: changing the way consumers pay. The behavioral shift holds big promise for the coffee giant and its stock”.

Not exactly, in my opinion. It is not just about “the law of large numbers”, and the difficulty of satisfying investors by building on profit margins that are well above peers. The business model has changed, and the question becomes whether the new model will match the original. It’s well known that a new loyalty program bothered some customers and also that an increasing number of customers are ordering and paying online, often in advance of entering the store. In the most recent quarter, 30% of US transactions were paid using the smartphone app, up from 25% a year earlier and 20% two years ago. More important, to my view, is that 9% of US orders were ordered and paid for in advance. The company has been discussing the store level congestion for several quarters now, as mobile orders slow down service for customers going through the line. Perhaps it’s just me, but I am put off somewhat when the line at the register (where I like the human contact) is short, but I have to wait while eight or ten orders are pumped out ahead of my own.

MILLENIALS, WHO ARE THE SPENDERS, DON’T VALUE HUMAN CONTACT (AS MUCH)

It’s not so long ago that pundits dismissed the internet as a retail venue. The public was not expected to give out their credit card information, and certainly was not going to buy “touchy, feely” products like apparel or shoes through online channels. The public is not only ordering “everything” through Amazon and others, but relationships are maintained through Facebook and other social channels. As a corollary, customers are increasingly seeking “experiential” retail situations, rather than visit the malls, with their undifferentiated stores and restaurants, most often staffed with poorly trained employees.

WHAT’S IT ALL MEAN TO EMPLOYEES, AND CUSTOMERS?

Relative to Starbucks, their leadership with mobile order and pay, increasingly in advance of the store visit, may well be appropriate and necessary, but the business model has changed. It’s become a production challenge, not a relationship driven enterprise. The employed “people person” who was the star of the previous model, is not going to be as easily satisfied, because most of the employees, for most of their time, are busy pumping out product. It’s going to be harder to find someone as described above who says that Starbucks “is making me a better person”. From the customer side, there are 27,000 stores already existing that are already tightly configured and can’t be reconfigured too much to handle a lot more production. From a customer standpoint, some, like myself (perhaps in the minority these days), who value the human contact, may decide that the local independent shop, or even the home or office kitchen, can provide an adequate cup of coffee at a competitive price without the “tumult”.

CONCLUSION

I remember when Howard Schultz said that food will never be a material part of Starbucks’ sales. Today, it represents 30% of revenues. Schultz originally envisioned his coffee shops as a “third place”, to hang out other than home or office. That’s a little hard today, in a small busy shop, but we can call this an “unintended consequence” of building one of the still growing premier worldwide brands. Comps and traffic have slowed in recent years, due to the “law of large numbers”, the natural limitations of small stores that were not originally built to handle today’s volumes, and the evolving environment that every successful retailer must adjust to. Starbucks is one of the most successful retailers ever created, and we don’t doubt that they will continue to succeed in a major way. We caution however, that the rate of progress demonstrated in the past, already slowing, will be increasingly difficult to replicate. The business model has evolved. Starbucks was a retail “disrupter” but their previous approach may not be quite as successful. Accordingly, valuation parameters that have applied to SBUX equity in the past may not apply in the future. The stock chart that has languished over the last couple of years may well be reflecting the most likely future business model; still good, just not quite as great.

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

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.

First Watch

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4497310-first-watch-restaurant-group-inc-s-fwrg-ceo-chris-tomasso-on-q4-2021-results-earnings-call

Darden

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4497545-darden-restaurants-inc-dri-ceo-gene-lee-on-q3-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4497632-darden-restaurants-inc-2022-q3-results-earnings-call-presentation

Wingstop

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4487627-wingstop-inc-wing-ceo-charlie-morrison-on-q4-2021-results-earnings-call-transcript

Wendy’s

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4491773-wendys-wen-ceo-todd-penegor-on-q4-2021-results-earnings-call-transcript

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4492114-wendys-company-2021-q4-results-earnings-call-presentation

Arcos Dorados

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4495957-arcos-dorados-holdings-inc-s-arco-ceo-marcelo-rabach-on-q4-2021-results-earnings-call

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4495955-arcos-dorados-holdings-inc-2021-q4-results-earnings-call-presentation

UPDATED CORPORATE DESCRIPTIONS FOR DENNY’S, WINGSTOP, CHEESECAKE, SHAKE SHACK, BJ’S and CHUY’S

UPDATED CORPORATE DESCRIPTIONS FOR DENNY’S (DENN), WINGSTOP (WING), CHEESECAKE FACTORY (CAKE), SHAKE SHACK (SHAK), BJ’S (BJRI) and CHUY’S (CHUY)

Denny’s

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2022/01/dennys-corporation-denn-new-writeup/

Wingstop

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2022/01/wingstop/

Cheesecake Factory

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2022/01/cheesecake-factory-updated-write-up/

Shake Shack

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2022/01/shake-shack-inc-shak/

BJ’s

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2021/11/bjs-restaurants-2/

Chuy’s

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2022/01/chuys-holdings-updated-write-up/

 

 

THE WEEK THAT WAS – ANALYSTS RETHINK RATINGS AHEAD OF ICR CONFERENCE NEXT WEEK

THE WEEK THAT WAS – QUIET SEASON,  ANALYSTS RETHINK A FEW RATINGS AHEAD OF ICR (USUALLY IN ORLANDO, NOW VIRTUAL) CONFERENCE NEXT WEEK

Todd Brooks Initiates WING at Hold. Nicole Regan Upgrades MCD to OverWeight and Downgrades CAKE and QSR to  Neutral. James Rutherford Upgrades CAKE to OverWeight and Downgrades DPZ and TAST to UnderWeight and EqualWeight respectively. Nick Setyan Initiates STKS at Outperform. Dennis Geiger Upgrades TXRH to Buy.

MOST RECENT COMPANY TRANSCRIPTS WHERE RATINGS WERE CHANGED

WINGSTOP

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4465125-wingstop-inc-wing-ceo-charlie-morrison-on-q3-2021-results-earnings-call-transcript

MCDONALD’S

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4462502-mcdonalds-corporations-mcd-ceo-chris-kempczinski-on-q3-2021-results-earnings-call-transcript

CHEESECAKE FACTORY

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4465199-cheesecake-factory-incorporated-cake-ceo-david-overton-on-q3-2021-results-earnings-call

RESTAURANT BRANDS

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4461822-restaurant-brands-international-inc-qsr-ceo-jose-cil-on-q3-2021-results-earnings-call

DOMINO’S

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4459963-dominos-pizza-inc-dpz-ceo-rich-allison-on-q3-2021-results-earnings-call-transcript

CARROLS

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4468048-carrols-restaurant-group-inc-tast-ceo-dan-accordino-on-q3-2021-results-earnings-call

THE ONE GROUP HOSPITALITY

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4466483-one-group-hospitality-inc-stks-ceo-manny-hilario-on-q3-2021-results-earnings-call-transcript

TEXAS ROADHOUSE

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4463310-texas-roadhouse-inc-s-txrh-ceo-jerry-morgan-on-q3-2021-results-earnings-call-transcript

NEXT WEEK: No restaurant companies scheduled to report. Major event is ICR Conference, which we will attend, and report on.

Roger Lipton

 

 

UPDATED CORPORATE DESCRIPTIONS – YUM CHINA, KURA SUSHI, WINGSTOP, SWEETGREEN, FIRST WATCH, POTBELLY

UPDATED CORPORATE DESCRIPTIONS – YUM CHINA (YUMC), KURA SUSHI (KRUS),  WINGSTOP (WING), SWEETGREEN (SG), FIRST WATCH (FWRG), POTBELLY (PBPB)

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.

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2021/11/yum-china-holdings-yumc-in-process/

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2021/11/kura-sushi-krus-write-up/

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2021/11/wingstop/

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2021/11/sweetgreen-sg-in-process/

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2021/11/first-watch-fwrg-in-process/

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2021/11/potbelly-pbpb-in-process/

 

COULD THIS HIGHLY VALUED RESTAURANT STOCK BE A RELATIVE BARGAIN ? – DEPENDS ON FUNDAMENTALS

COULD THIS HIGHLY VALUED RESTAURANT STOCK BE A RELATIVE BARGAIN ? – DEPENDS ON FUNDAMENTALS

We published an analysis on October 22nd, showing almost all the publicly held restaurant companies, comparing their current valuations to those before the pandemic. That chart is provided below, with prices updated to midday on 11/9. Based on the 2/15/20 (pre-pandemic) estimate of 2020 earnings, and today’s estimate of 2021 earnings, it appears that Wingstop (WING), while still carrying a very high multiple of earnings and EBITDA, is valued more reasonably today than ten months ago.

Let’s take a more complete fundamental look at Wingstop. Back on February 15th, WING was selling at $101/share. Trailing EPS, for calendar 2019, had been $0.73/share. This steadily growing franchising company was expected to earn around $0.87/share in 2021, so the P/E on forward earnings was a very high 116x. Investors obviously were valuing this small box pure franchisor, with consistent unit growth based on strong store level economics, with free cash flow providing recurring special dividends to shareholders.

The table below, from Bloomberg LP, shows the EPS trend. 2020 EPS has obviously accelerated, as a result of Wingstop’s positioning relative to the pandemic.

You can see that EPS for 2021 are estimated to be $1.43/share so that WING, at $129/share is valued at “only” 90x 2021 earnings. Adjusting that multiple upward by 5% to account for the fact that calendar 2021 is about 15 months away versus the forward 2020 normalized EPS as of 2/15/20, the comparable multiple is about 95x versus 116x on 2/15.

The question now: is WING better or worse off as a result of the pandemic, and going forward into a normalized environment at some point?

The key question in any franchising situation relates to unit level economics, which translates into unit growth and then cash flow for the franchisor. As stated in the 2019 10K, the operating model “targets an average investment of about $390k, excluding real estate purchase or lease costs and pre-opening expenses. In year two of operation, we target a franchisee unlevered cash on cash return of about 35% to 40%.” The Wingstop franchise system was growing steadily though calendar 2019. The table below shows the admirable trends, all compelling in terms of attracting investors. This is IDEAL. No wonder the valuation was (and is) so high.

Which brings us to the current situation. In the second quarter, the first during the pandemic,  for thirteen weeks ending 6/27/20, same store sales were up 31.9%. There were 23 net new openings. Adjusted EBITDA grew 54%.

In the recently reported third quarter same store sales were up 25.4%. There were 43 net new openings. Adjusted EBITDA grew 19.5%.

Predictably, the pipeline for new stores is building, with 135-140 net new openings in 2020 now the expectation, up from only 95 earlier in the year. Management stated that “our brand partners are enjoying unlevered cash on cash well above 50%….our existing brand partners make up over 80% of our pipeline.” We don’t doubt that franchisees, who were very happy at the end of ’19, with C/C returns in the area of 35-40%, are even more pleased with sales up 25-30% so far in calendar ’20.

We won’t go into the operational details other than to say that Wingstop is doubling down from an operational, marketing and real estate standpoint. International growth is a major focus, especially the expansion into China.  There is a current “regular” dividend of $0.14/share quarterly (less than 0.5% annually) but “special” dividends have been provided, with a $5.00 dividend going “ex” next week, bringing the total to over $13.00 per share over the last four years. The Company continues to carry long term debt approximating 6x trailing EBITDA, but that’s typical among franchisors and investors don’t object as long as they are getting “theirs” in a continuing low interest rate environment.

CONCLUSION:

There is no reason to expect that Wingstop’s industry position is anything but strengthened over the last ten months. While 25-30% same store sales growth will no doubt moderate, perhaps even decline a bit once a vaccine is available and dine-in activity is re-established, franchisees should continue to generate their “above 50%” C/C returns and build out their territories. We therefore view the existing consensus EPS estimate of $1.22 for 2020 to be a reasonable base  on which to build to $1.43 in 2021 and more thereafter. Investors that were prepared to pay well over 100x expected earnings for WING back in February should be more comfortable today, with an even stronger company and a slightly lower valuation.

Roger Lipton

 

 

ASSET LIGHT FRANCHISING – COMPLAINTS FROM FRANCHISEES – LET’S CLEAR THE AIR!!

 

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.

THE SUGGESTION

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.

Roger Lipton