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Cheesecake Factory reports 4Q EPS after the market close tomorrow.  Here are some thoughts on the release and a recap of the most recent forward looking commentary from management.

On January 11th, we posted “CAKE: LOOKING AHEAD TO 4Q EARNINGS”.  Our stance at that time was that, following our bearish view of the stock during much of 2011, several sell-side downgrades and had seen expectations come more in line with our view of the stock. Our estimate remains at $0.51 versus the street at $0.52 but, despite being below consensus, we believe that the strength on the top-line will offset other concerns.  Expectations around the company’s food costs, in particular, are now more realistic, in our view, than they were during 2011.

One chart we published in January and would like to do so is below; CAKE system same-store sales versus the ICSC Chain Store Sales Index.  The correlation between the two data sets is +0.8.  Given that consumer metrics in general, not only the ICSC Chain Store Sales Index, have been indicating quite healthy levels of spending for 4Q, it is difficult to be bearish on CAKE’s top-line prospects.  CAKE is a beneficiary of traffic in malls and the strong dollar as much as any other player in the space. 

CAKE: EARNINGS CHECKLIST - icsc vs cake

Despite some short covering over the past couple of months helping the stock move higher, sentiment around CAKE remains quite bearish relative to other restaurant names.  The current short interest of 13.8% of the float poses some risk for investors selling the stock short ahead of the print.

CAKE: EARNINGS CHECKLIST - cake sentiment1

Below is a selection of important forward looking comments from management pertaining to 4Q and 2012.  As a reminder, 2011 was a 53-week year for CAKE with the extra week falling in 4Q.

HEADLINE NUMBERS

“For the fourth quarter of 2011, we estimate a range of comparable sales between 1.5% and 2.5%, consistent with our recent trends. Based on this assumption, our estimate for diluted earnings per share is between $0.51 and $0.53.”

“For the full-year 2012, we are currently estimating diluted earnings per share in a range of $1.80 to $1.90 based on an assumed comparable sales range of between 1% and 2%, extending the trends we see in 2011. Our earnings per share estimate assumes that we will use the majority of our free cash flow for share repurchases.”

MARGINS

“We continue to experience higher food costs related to certain non-contracted items, particularly dairy, as well as some grocery and produce items.”

“Food costs are not moderating on a comparative basis quite as much as we expected them to, and we are now projecting cost of sales to be flat to only slightly better versus the prior year in the fourth quarter. That impacts the fourth quarter by about $0.01 in earnings as compared to our prior expectations.”

UNIT GROWTH & CAPEX

“Looking ahead to 2012, it looks to be a solid year. We're currently expecting to open as many as 7 to 10 new restaurants next year, including a new Grand Lux Café. The pipeline for high-quality sites is strong and more robust than we've seen in quite some time.”

“Our projection for capital spending this year [2011] is now $75 million to $80 million, in support of our planned seven new restaurant openings in 2011 as well as expected early 2012 openings.”

“We plan to open as many as 7 to 10 new domestic restaurants next year [2012] as well as 3 internationally. Our total capital expenditures are expected to be between $105 million and $125 million.”

OTHER

“We are increasing our target for share repurchases by $20 million in 2011 to a range of between $145 million and $170 million. Our restaurants generate a healthy amount of cash, and we are using the majority of our free cash flow to buy back our shares.”

Howard Penney

Managing Director

Rory Green

Analyst