I could spend the next 500 words expanding on all of the details of the past quarter and rehashing the guidance, which was obviously a big disappointment, but I don’t see the point.  Right now, the only thing that matters is what senior management is going to do to stem the decline in same-store sales and take the Chili’s brand to a level that will put it significantly above the competition.

While the current promotion “3 courses, 2 people for $20” may have helped have helped stem the decline in same-store sales in July, it’s not a game changer for Chili’s.  The current Chili’s promotion is only slightly different from the current Applebee’s promotion of “2 entrée’s for $20.”  Management acknowledged that this current promotion is only a short-term fix to drive traffic in this extremely competitive environment.  To that end, management said it will be implementing a new initiative in late fiscal 1Q2010 that it said will drive long-term menu innovation.  The company did not provide any further details about this initiative.

So what is management thinking?  The Brinker management team needs to be thinking that it must elevate the Chili’s brand, so that the food it serves is substantially better than the competition.  In the Bar & Grill “sea of sameness,” it’s imperative that it makes substantial changes and does not just launch some run of the mill value promotion.  Chili’s needs to start taking significant market share from its competition while its competitors are on the ropes.  Many of Chili’s competitors in the Bar & Ggrill segment are either marginally profitable or are so significantly leveraged, they have limited ability to navigate the challenging environment. 

Chili’s needs to go for the jugular while it can! 

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work in a Chili’s, put on a Chef’s coat and “fire up” a Fajita.  Without going into details, what struck me was how complicated it was to execute the current menu.  If my memory serves me correctly, there are three different sizes of chicken breasts with six different marinades.  It is very easy to put the wrong size breast with a meal at the wrong price point, costing the store incremental profitability.      

So why do I bring this up?  The menu has begun to complicate Chili’s ability to execute effectively.  Chili’s needs to simplify its back of the house operations by reducing the menu to include only the core items that represent the bulk of the chain’s sales.  At the same time, it can increase the quality of the items left on the menu.  A menu that is simpler to execute will translate into better food delivered to the guest with fewer complaints, thereby allowing the concept to build increased customer loyalty.  Importantly, it will provide a better work environment for restaurant employees.

A strategy like this is not without risks, but it’s also not unprecedented in the restaurant industry and for consumer companies.  In the restaurant industry, McDonald’s did it a few years back and the old “Philip Morris” did it in 1994 when it was under attack from “discount” brands.  Also, if I’m not mistaken, Grand Metropolitan (the UK based beverage company) reduced its SKUs in the mid 1990’s before it was taken over.

Monkey Time: SP500 Levels, Refreshed...

Can our monkey hold onto the high-wire of price momentum into and out of tomorrow? Here’s the SP500’s setup into the unemployment report:


1.       Immediate term TRADE resistance = 1,011

2.       Immediate term TRADE support = 990

3.       Watch out below line of support = 967


I say watch out below because I think a close below 990 takes the monkeys down to the floors of their cages. We’ve had 14 straight days of positive TRADE and TREND across all 9 sectors of our SP500 views – the only other clanging momentum rally of that duration in 2009 was the one that ended, abruptly, at the beginning of June.


If you really want to throw a monkey wrench at this, think about the implications of a fantastic unemployment report tomorrow… Yes, it may very well drive the US Dollar higher (like the jobless claims # did today). Dollar up, and momentum monkeys fall down – you’re seeing a sneak preview of that today.


A worse than expected unemployment report tomorrow would throw everyone for a loop if it equated to Dollar down and everything straight up. That’s when you’ll see that 1,011 print. That’s the line I’ll sell. I’m a better buyer here.



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Monkey Time: SP500 Levels, Refreshed...  - spref



QSR - Big 3 Market Share Shifts

We learned today that Wendy’s company-operated July same-store sales improved sequentially to up 2.0% (up 3.4%, excluding the impact of 300 fewer restaurants serving breakfast compared to a year ago) from -1.2% in 2Q09 (up 0.6%, excluding the breakfast impact).  From the chart below, you can see that Wendy’s had been underperforming both MCD and BKC in the U.S. since about 2Q07.

 In the most recent quarters , Wendy’s has started to gain share from BKC as Wendy’s increased its value messaging at the same time BKC focused more heavily on its premium priced menu items.  MCD is scheduled to report its July comparable sales growth on Monday, but has said that it expects its U.S. segment to post a number that is similar to or better than June’s 1.8% result (see my post titled MCD – July Sales Preview for more details).  Assuming MCD reports about 2% same-store sales in the U.S., July will mark the first month since 1Q07 that Wendy’s matched MCD’s comparable sales growth level.  And, excluding the YOY breakfast impact, Wendy’s may have actually stolen market share from MCD in July.  

BKC does not report fiscal 4Q09 (calendar 2Q09) until August 25, but the chart below reflects my belief that BCK’s same-store sales growth continued to decline on a sequential basis in the quarter and in July.  BKC acknowledged that its focus on premium products has failed to drive traffic and has more recently increased its advertising around more value items, such as the $1 Whopper Junior.  TAST reported 2Q09 results earlier this week and its Burger King same-store sales growth (TAST is a franchisee of 314 U.S. Burger King restaurants) fell off a cliff during the quarter on a sequential basis, -4.7% versus +5.1% in 1Q09.  These less than favorable trends continued in July with comparable sales down about 5%.  Directionally, these TAST results do not bode well for BKC. 


QSR - Big 3 Market Share Shifts - big3

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OEH reported inline revenues but missed street EBITDA expectations, although I can’t say that we are surprised.  It’s hard to remember last time OEH beat expectations.  In any event, the stock and its value is more about the option on the real estate and whether management will act in the interest of its shareholders to eventually monetize it.


OEH 2Q09 Earnings call:

  •  Another challenging quarter for the industry and OEH
  • A few odd things to mention
    • Swine Flu decimated their results in Mexico
    • Thailand social unrest also impacted them negatively
    • Hit by rapid collapse in Russia
    • The positive is that excluding these properties decline was only 18% (RevPAR – local dollars) and these properties will have a lot of upside (super easy comps going forward)
  • They believe that they are at a pivotal point in the cycle, and the team now needs to focus on the long term- think towards the future and not the present.  What steps they are taking?
    • Reducing cost base
    • Deleverage by selling non-core assets
    • Focus on positioning for RevPAR & EBITDA growth when the market begins to recover
  • Cost cutting started a year ago, and have realized a reduction of $20MM in fixed costs.  Diligence on costs will remain, but the benefit from cuts will dissipate going forward
  • Trends they are seeing
    • Reduced occupancy accounts for 2/3rds of RevPAR declines
    • Bookings are very last minute
    • At the beginning of the Q biz was down 30% and ended up only down 18%
    • For Q3: they are 29% below in bookings
    • Rate contracted significantly in Europe
    • Q3 is their strongest quarter
      • July saw RevPAR down 18%
      • UK is weaker than most of their markets – hitting their feeder markets in Portugal
      • US groups market is very weak
      • Italy is only 6% down but Europe is 22% - Russia
      • US – Charleston is down 28%, but other properties are doing better
  • Sale of assets
    • Lapa Palace
    • Progressing with sale of Windsor Court set to close in September
    • Bora Bora also marketing for sale
    • Have 95 of the 181 units at La Samanna which they plan to sell over the next 3 years
    • Sold 2 villas in Thailand for 1.7MM
  • Looking towards recovery… the key lies in their brand
  • Balance sheet:
    • Restricted cash was $13MM
    • Windsor court debt - $37MM (in discontinued ops) and proceeds on the sale should be more than sufficient to pay off the debt
    • 7x net debt to EBITDA
    • Current debt includes $16MM of the Australian debt that was refinanced in July
  • Net cash flow of $15MM, 3MM of maintenance Capex, $11MM spent on Porto Cupacoy
  • Sale of Lapa Palace - $19MM Euros + 10MM deferred Euros to be received in 2010
  • Tax charges included current charge of $5MM and deferred charge of $10MM
    • Full year tax charge of 14-16MM


  • What kind of forward booking window do they have? Cancellation rates?
    • Booking window is very short – so outlook is scary. Taking as much as 30% of revenue in for the month in the month – 2 years ago this was unheard of
      • Cipriani 4% booked in July for July 2 years ago, this year 30% (for example)
  • What % of their business came from finance/ Wall Street in the past?
    • Can’t really answer that- not really their market – very hard to quantify that
  • Mexico was impacted by Swine Flu, Grand Hotel Europe, any improvement in 3Q09?
    • Mexico – think it will recover by end of the year
    • Russia – seeing reservations from the domestic traveler are coming back a little bit. This property is really a “Russian” occupied property- should recover when the economy there recovers
  • Taxes – spread out balance equally btw 3 & 4Q
  • What’s going on with the legal case against them regarding their corporate structure?
    • Still proceeding – will have an update in the Q
  • Last minute bookings – are they coming in at much lower prices?
    • “Being more flexible on rate”
    •  accounts for 13% of the business now – put out special last minute offers
  • Long haul traveler is still traveling, but the “weekend getaway” trip is getting canned
    • So US travelers are still going to Italy, but canning the short Caribbean trip
    • Europeans acting the same
    • Basically that 3-4 day holidays has just gone away, suffering the most
      • La Residencia
      • La Cite
      • Reid’s
  • Debt covenants?
    • Do have tight headroom on some covenants
    • Got relief for 2 covenants
    • Only have 1 hotel with CMBS debt
    • Windsor court - only asset with “toxic” level of debt- but it’s being sold
    • Everywhere else they have lots of room on debt to “asset value”
    • Coverage ratios are fine given the drop off in rates
  • How are the rate trends looking/ compared to occupancy trends?
    • Rates are coming down as they try to incentivize people to stay last minute
    • Entry level rooms in the shoulder season – “hugely” flexible.  Less flexible in the high season on suites/etc
  • Not going public on all for sale properties… have identified 8 properties that they will look to sell over the next 2 years (sounds like Grand Hotel was on that list)
  • Library / 21 Club status
    • Pushed back the whole deal by 2 years, paid an extra 9MM deposit
    • Re-evaluating what they will do if anything there – they may just walk away from it – try to sell it and get a manage contract
  • Are there any assets that they will “give the keys” back to the bank on?
    • NO

If Only She Were That Good...

When people are lighting up my inbox like a Christmas tree that the market is selling off because Meredith Whitney said something about selling the financials, you know people who don’t do macro are pulling at straws…


The New Reality is this: when the US Dollar goes up, everything priced in dollars goes down. So far this morning, the US Dollar is UP – and the market is DOWN. Sorry Meredith fans – if she were only that good…


Why is the US Dollar up on the day? Simple – the US jobs picture continues to improve. This is very straightforward in the chart below. This week’s jobless claims of 550,000 improved sequentially, dropping below the 4-week moving average (562,000).


As the jobs picture improves, Bernanke will be forced to remove this ridiculous “emergency” ZERO interest rate policy. As the bond market continues to discount rate hikes (higher yields across the curve), the US Dollar should at least stop going down.


As the US Dollar stops going down, stocks stop going up…


When good news is bad – that’s what this is – it’s not about an analyst making a call.



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


If Only She Were That Good...  - emplkm



As we expected, MELCO reported revenues and EBITDA below street expectations.  The revenue number was a little worse than we projected, as was the EBITDA loss.  Somehow, all the “miss” came from Altira… can someone say cost transfer? Anyway, not sure any of this matters with the carrot of commission caps, lower taxes and possible lifting of visa restrictions hanging in the wind.  The positive takeway is that CoD is still ramping, keeping the possibility alive that EBITDA can grow into the valuation.


MPEL 2Q09 Earnings call:


  • Good hold has continued into August
  • Overall market share into August has also continued to increased
    • Well, one week doesn’t make a trend
  • MPEL thinks that the Macau market will continue to strengthen and the 2H09 will be much stronger
    • “High quality supply leads to growth”
      • Sound familiar?
  • Fortunate to have China as an engine of growth … that’s true
  • Will find ways to run the property more efficiently
    • Moved 800 employees from Altira to CoD
  • Will open Hyatt in September, are short on rooms now
  • Altira strategy is to differentiate it from CoD, no signs of cannibalization
    • 22% of RC in Macau in July btw both properties
  • They have transitioned from a development company to one focused on operations – 100% focused on maximizing EBITDA
  • Excluding gaming taxes & commission, adds up to 1.3MM USD per day (including corporate office)
    • Will look for efficiencies
  • Have 190MM of closing out costs on CoD in 3Q09
  • 3Q09 guidance
    • 75-80MM D&A
    • Net interest: 12-14MM
    • Pre-opening expenses (Grand Hyatt): 10MM


  • Amax in City of Dreams?
    • Key is not to cannibalize the business between the two properties
    • Seeing really strong volumes despite the 1.25% cap that they have imposed on themselves
    • Have not opened all VIP rooms at CoD, so there is capacity to add more tables if needed
  • Commission caps? Sounds like the government will take charge - is the fine substantial enough to enforce it?
    • The association of the concessionaires has been very positive
      • “Gone are the days of ego”… I doubt that 
    • Process of formalizing the enforcement could take a few weeks or a few months
    • Unless they do more than $HK30BN of RC per month the commissions paid to junkets is 1.25% or less.. so at these volume levels .... there wouldn’t really be any impact
    • It’s not about the fear of the fine, its more the carrot of the higher margins from the cap
    • In addition to monetary fines, there will be additional consequences
    • Will be no impact at CoD, but will help Altira
    • No clarity on regulating the granting of credit
    • Although, with the lower volumes that the property is doing it probably won’t make a difference … maybe by 2 bps or so
  • Shift of business from Peninsula to Cotai, any other partnership initiatives with LVS?
    • Seeing an increase in conversion from visitation “looky –loos” to players
    • As they gather more data they can better manage the product mix and costs
    • Will push to increase the earnings now
    • Core inbound markets to CoD are Southern China and HK, see continued growth from South China
  • Trends in August
    • “Caution anyone to look at first few days worth of data”
      • But he opened the call taking about August… hmmm
    • 2% below the market leader in first week of August (in terms of share)
  • Potential policy changes under new CE
    • Was the Secretary for Cultural and Tourism programs, understands that Macau’s health depends on tourism which is driven by the gaming industry
    • 10th anniversary of the handover of Macau is a key date… “he may be bearing gifts”
  • Swine flu impact?
    • Peak period of concern was April/ May, not sure if there is any overhang at this point
  • What are they seeing from competitors to the opening of CoD?
    • Having seen a dramatic increase in the promotional environment
    • There is a school of thought that everyone will compete away “margins” in the competition for Mass business: they aren’t seeing any of that
  • Operating cash flow in 2Q09? Use EBITDAR is a good metric less preopening expenses + WC deposit
  • Availability under Credit Agreement - $50MM undrawn on R/C
  • All in commission rates at CoD?
    • 1.25% (blended btw junket and direct)
  • Most properties derive 85-90% of their VIP business from junkets, but given how wonderful CoD is – they have a higher ratio of direct play
  • CoD has already have some initial tweaks of MASS/VIP
  • Mass market growth in August?
    • Improvement continues sequentially
    • Hold in July was a little below 16% on the Mass side, over time Mass hold increases at properties. Because over time, people will play more as they stay at the property.  The longer players play – the higher the hold goes… can get as high as 21/22%
  • Bad debt write-off at Altira?
    • Related to direct play
  • Impact of Singapore
    • Government has had several conversations on the topic of the potential impact of lowering the tax rate. Currently, the rate is 35% + 4% for social contributions,  Singapore is lower (5% + 7% at the corporate level)
    • Advantage of Macau is the location
    • So hopefully the opening of Singapore will be positive resulting in lower taxes
  • Capex for Phase Three of CoD which includes theatre?
    • End of the first/ beginning second quarter 2010 – no incremental costs – already incorporated into Ph2
  • MPEL thinks that Greenfield projects will be able to be discussed again when the market and capital markets recover
  • Where are they putting premium Mass business? Rebates on premium mass
    • GinMen tables? Account for it in Mass Drop
    • Commission rates start at .3% range to .6% for Rolling Chip customers (Direct play) not a premium cash customer. There are very limited amount of tables dedicated to this
  • Impact of opening of Grand Hyatt?
    • Running on full occupancy in July- see significant upside in Sept/Oct
    • Retail/ Mass should benefit
    • Only 600 rooms, and 300 of those (Crown) are only for VIP … then the 300 at Hard Rock – spreading it from Retail demand and Mass players (so really only 150 rooms for sale).  The 800 more rooms will really help them assure that gaming floor stays busy from midnight – 4am
      • They believe there will be a 20% lift at least

Daily Trading Ranges

20 Proprietary Risk Ranges

Daily Trading Ranges is designed to help you understand where you’re buying and selling within the risk range and help you make better sales at the top end of the range and purchases at the low end.