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DRI: CLARENCE'S LEGACY, A HALF-BAKED PLAN

Takeaway: The CEO took his best shot at fixing the company and fell short. Who will come to the rescue?

Otis’ legacy will be defined by his unwillingness to make the changes necessary to create significant value for shareholders.


The writing has been on the wall for quite some time that DRI needs to make significant changes to the operating structure of the company.  We didn’t believe Clarence would pull the trigger this quarter.  In fact, we didn’t think he would ever do it.  We were wrong.  However, the plan announced yesterday stops well short of what really needs to be done.  What Clarence presented made little strategic sense and didn’t get at the heart of the problem.  Darden is still a company with an inefficient operating structure.

 

INCONSISTENCIES IN OTIS’ STRATEGIC RATIONALE


“Transaction transforms the portfolio into two independent companies that can each focus on separate and distinct opportunities to drive long-term shareholder value.”


HEDGEYE – What about our plan instead!  The "HWPenney" transaction transforms the portfolio brands into four independent companies that have leading market share in their respective categories.  Each company will be driven by intensive focus on a single operating priority and shareholder value creation. 

 

According to Otis, the “Old Darden” had 8 brands with “divergent operating priorities” and now the “New Darden” will have 7.  Management admitted they can’t manage 8 brands, yet they think it’s a good idea to manage 7? 

 

 

“Separation will allow ‘New Darden’ and ‘New Red Lobster’ to better serve their increasingly divergent guest targets.”


HEDGEYEWhat about the divergent guest targets between Olive Garden and Yard House?  We understand that a changing consumer dynamic creates the need for intensive focus on key guest targets, but the “New Darden” is anything but focused.  Our plan creates three companies focused on: Steak, Italian, and Seafood.  This would allow for intensive focus on key guest targets and specific brand priorities in each category.

 

DRI: CLARENCE'S LEGACY, A HALF-BAKED PLAN - 12 20 2013 11 57 12 AM

 

 

“Separate organizations enables ‘New Darden’ and ‘New Red Lobster’ to better focus on their divergent value creation levers.”


HEDGEYE – This is nothing more than a bunch of filler.  It’s embarrassing they think they can spin this idea as a strategic opportunity.  Leading full-service restaurant companies are outperforming Darden because they have stronger business models and create more value for shareholders.

 

 

“Announced compensation changes for ‘New Darden’ and planned program for ‘New Red Lobster’ will result in appropriate incentives for management teams passionate about their respective businesses”


HEDGEYE – You don’t need to split the company to do that.  If the “Old Darden” wanted compensation closely tied to each respective business, this would have already been in place.  Does this suggest the “Old Darden” team members were not passionate about their respective business?

 

 

“Separation repositions the business to better serve differing shareholder investment requirements (growth and income vs. income/yield) and maximizes total shareholder value.”


HEDGEYE – This is a classic example of investment banker BS.  The guidance for the “New Darden” looks the same as guidance for the “Old Darden.”  How does this strategic plan better serve the different investment requirements of its brands?

 

The plan presented yesterday seemed reactionary and hastily put together.  It doesn’t even address declining margins and potential solutions. 

 

After a series of conversations with industry insiders and taking some time to digest the events, we’ve concluded that the strategic initiatives announced yesterday could actually end up creating more problems for the company.  To be blunt, this strategy could be a complete disaster and result in value deterioration rather than creation. 

 

 

POTENTIAL FOR VALUE DESTRUCTION:


Red Lobster may be less profitable and, as a result, less valuable.

By spinning-off the Red Lobster brand, management is essentially kicking a brand that is already down.  The brand is in decline and has been for quite a while.  For Darden to essentially say “we don’t want you” may send the wrong message to Red Lobster rank and file employees.  In our opinion, this could create a lot of angst within the employee base and could lead to further underperformance.  Everyone knows the brand is in trouble and by casting it off on its own is simply conveying to the Red Lobster team that they aren’t worthy.  The probability that Red Lobster sees an accelerated decline in profitability just went up significantly. 

 

The plan does not eliminate the issue of managing multiple brands.

This is why we’re here in the first place.  Darden’s current portfolio, which is too big and too complex to perform is largely intact.  This multi-concept structure has created significant inefficiencies in the operating structure of the company.  This separation doesn’t do anything other than remove an underperforming brand from the portfolio.  Our plan to fix Darden properly aligns the company’s brands and organizes the portfolio in a way that would be beneficial to each NewCo.  The “New Darden” brands aren’t focused to create maximum shareholder value!

 

Clarence is building a moat around his castle.

After years of underperformance, someone must be held accountable, right?  So Clarence has been deflecting blame on others and firing the people around him.  It is time someone holds him accountable.  He is the Chairman and CEO of a company that has vastly underperformed its peers for the past several years.  When will he accept responsibility for his decisions?

 

They are not cutting unit growth or costs as aggressively as they should.

Darden plans to halt unit growth at Olive Garden for a few years, slightly slow unit growth at LongHorn and expect unit growth to be slightly lower next year at the Specialty Restaurant Group.  This unit growth will save approximately $100mm in capital expenditures annually.  In our opinion, management doesn’t want to halt growth, but they need to in order to maintain Darden’s dividend.  We think they need to stop growing altogether and straighten out before they exacerbate the problems they are currently facing.  Further, through support cost management the team expects annual savings of $60mm beginning in FY15.  This is slightly up from the $50mm the company announced last quarter.  For a company riddled with excessive spending, it’s very discouraging that they were only able to find an additional $10mm in annual cost savings.  Management must cut costs more aggressively if they plan to unlock significant shareholder value.

 

There is no real plan to fix Olive Garden.

The company did not release any details around fixing Olive Garden.  This should be their number one priority, considering that the brand will make up approximately 60% of the “New Darden.”  We heard mumblings of the “Brand Renaissance” plan, but management failed to go into detail for competitive reasons.  Just last quarter we listened to Brinker management detail their plans to improve operations within their four walls.  The point is, this seems like a cop-out.  If investors want to get behind this company now, they need to know what management plans to do to turn around the Olive Garden brand.

 

Management has lost all credibility to hit its targets.

This was evident from the very beginning of the call.  But one analyst, in particular, directly confronted management about their lack of credibility:

 

It seems in the presentations that you gave us that the key to whether this could create value or not is on those operating income growth numbers, low to mid-teens at the New Darden and mid to high single-digits at the New Red Lobster.  Why are those credible given the track record?


We thought it was ridiculous management didn’t guide down FY14 projections after an abysmal 1QF14 and apparently, others are starting to feel the same way.  Why they were so reluctant to do so is beyond us and now their credibility is in question.  The concern here is, if Darden doesn’t hit the revised targets management announced yesterday, they will have failed to create any shareholder value despite the strategic rationale aimed at doing just that.

 

 

CLICK HERE TO WATCH

 

DRI: CLARENCE'S LEGACY, A HALF-BAKED PLAN - 12 19 2013 3 47 02 PM

 

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director

 



NOVEMBER STILL RED BUT BETTER THAN MODELED

Charts & Bullets:  Better than bad for the regionals in November but December could be ugly


  • Assuming Mississippi revenues come in line with our projection for November, SS revenues for the mature regional gaming markets would be down -1% vs our projection of -3%.  The outperformance was mainly due to Louisiana which reported a 2% gain in SS revenues.
  • The November “beat” offsets the October “miss” relative to our model
  • Illinois was the only laggard as that market was adversely impacted by tornados
  • Based on our projection below, December may surprise investors on the downside 

NOVEMBER STILL RED BUT BETTER THAN MODELED - ss



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4.1 Percent

Takeaway: It's the first up week for the US Dollar in six. Keep that Dollar strong.

Boom! A 4.1% US GDP print for Q313. Unbelievable.

 

Remember the call consensus US stock market bears (and Gold Bond bulls) completely missed in 2013? Exactly.

 

#RatesRising mapped US #GrowthAccelerating from 0.14% to 4.1% like a Hedgeye glove. US GDP at this time last year (Q412) was 0.14%.

 

4.1 Percent - drake

 

Epic acceleration.

 

Speaking of growth, it's the first up week for the US Dollar in six. Keep that Dollar strong.

 

4.1 Percent - joke

 

Interested in joining the Hedgeye Revolution? Click here to learn more.


No E-Cigs For You! NYC Electronic Cigarette Ban Puts Vapors Out On the Streets

Yesterday, New York City’s city council voted overwhelmingly (43 to 8) to prohibit the use of e-cigs in indoor public areas where regular cigarettes are already banned. The Big Apple now joins New Jersey, North Dakota, Utah, and Arkansas which have already enacted similar bans in bars and restaurants. In recent weeks, we’ve also witnessed initial considerations on e-cig policy percolating in Chicago and Los Angeles.

 

NYC’s ban is set to take effect in four months, and follows the city’s recent decision to raise the age to buy traditional tobacco and e-cigs to 21 from 18, and raise the minimum price per pack of traditional cigs to $10.50 (set to take effect in APR/MAY 2014).

 

We view the vote as a marginal headwind to the industry.

 

In particular, the council’s focus was on fears that e-cigs could be a “gateway” to traditional cigarettes, outweighing “harm reduction” arguments. While we think that consumers intuitively understand that e-cigs offer a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes (it’s the tar that kills you; the nicotine is simply an addictive agent), we think the industry stands to benefit as more science reveals the health benefits of an e-cig over a traditional cig.

 

Despite this obvious hit to the convenience of indoor smoking, we still see health considerations and a lower price point advantage driving the category as Big Tobacco’s focus on the category drives awareness, innovation and growth.

 

Just today, Philip Morris (PM) and Altria (MO) announced e-cig synergies across the two companies, effectively licensing and supplying (perhaps also manufacturing) each other’s brands across the globe. Note that both MO and PM have aspirations for nationwide e-cig distributions by mid-2014, MO under the brand MarkTen and PM with its yet to be disclosed brand.   

 

As we approach year-end, there remains an industry wide expectation that the FDA is set to imminently announce regulatory restrictions on electronic cigarettes. The exact timing? It’s still anyone’s guess. We believe the industry is bracing for regulation that could include:  

 

1) A ban of online commerce

2) Age verification standards at retail

3) Flavor limitations (beyond tobacco and menthol)

4) Health/safety certifications

5) Labeling and marketing requirements

 

We think regulation of e-cigs is positive for the industry so long as it does not, in particular, stifle innovation or price/tax as traditional cigarettes.

 

For a more comprehensive overview of the industry and regulation please see our recent report: “E-Cigs at the Thanksgiving Table”.

 

Bottom line: Despite increasing regulatory headwinds, we remain quite bullish on e-cigs.

 

Matthew Hedrick

Associate


NKE: Removing Nike From Investing Ideas

Takeaway: We are removing Nike from Investing Ideas.

Editor's note: Shares of Nike have risen almost 23% since Hedgeye Retail Sector Head Brian McGough added it to Investing Ideas on 7/26/13. The S&P 500 is up approximately 7.5% in that time. Please see below McGough's explanation why he is removing NKE from Investing Ideas.

 

NKE: Removing Nike From Investing Ideas - nike1

 

We liked this Nike quarter about as much as we like week-old sushi. 

 

Sure, the quarter definitely had some redeeming qualities, like a solid 13% futures growth rate, a beat on the gross margin line, and really encouraging signs out of Western Europe. But the reality is that the company put up a less than impressive 8% top line growth rate, and managed to translate that into a whopping 4% EPS growth rate.

 

It missed our estimate, and we were hardly aggressive in our assumptions.

 

Maybe we're being a  little hard on Nike, as it has earned its spot as the dominant brand in this space, but the reality is that the company has put together such a fantastic string of results for so long (and has the multiple to match), and putting up a mere 4% growth rate is so….Adidas. 

 

If Nike wants to maintain its standing as one of the preeminent global companies and brands, its going to have to push the envelope a bit more going forward. We wouldn't be buying it here, and might go the other way if it bounces.


Hedgeye Statistics

The total percentage of successful long and short trading signals since the inception of Real-Time Alerts in August of 2008.

  • LONG SIGNALS 80.30%
  • SHORT SIGNALS 78.51%
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