HOT 3Q09 CONF CALL

Like clockwork, HOT beats the quarter and lowers guidance.  Management's reassurances of benefitting from the eventual recovery weren't enough to save the day.

General Commentary:

  • Continued to see better results as they moved through the quarter.  Results are improving by the week
  • Dramatically cut back on their costs, but realize that they can't save their way to prosperity
  • They will hold the line on costs while focusing on driving revenue
  • St. Regis NY was sold out for 50% of the nights in September 
  • While occupancies are starting to creep back, it's unclear when rate will recovery.  It's typically two quarters after occupancy turns positive

3Q09 Results & Outlook:

  • I love how he says that they are able to beat consensus each quarter through cost controls... how about by lowering numbers each quarter and setting a low bar???
  • Think that international, FX, and luxury & upper upscale concentration will soon again become tailwinds instead of headwinds
    • We agree on international and FX especially
  • China is recovering nicely, as RevPAR gets less bad
  • India is one of their weakest markets but they are optimistic in the long term
  • Latin America was negatively affected by H1N1; their owned Mexican properties were down 40%+
  • North America is slowly getting less bad, Europe is doing a little better
  • Given the continued pressure on rate, they are preparing for a difficult 2010
  • Points out that owned portfolio has fallen so far that it will be a big source of upside when things recovery... of course who knows when that will be
  • Timeshare - deliquencies stabilized around 4%, tour flow down
  • Cost cutting
    • Full year SG&A around $400MM.  Majority of cost cuts came at corporate and in NA & European regions with emerging markets left largely uncut
    • Leveraging account coverage over more properties
  • SPG is also driving their topline, think that they generated $100MM of incremental revenues by incentivizing more visits to their property through deals and promotions
  • Spoke at length about the Sheraton relaunch, maybe it's just me but it seems like they've been "renovating" this brand since I began covering lodging circa 2001
  • Decided to complete Bal Harbour, but won't be doing any other new builds like this going forward
  • 2010 will likely be another challenging year, but will greatly benefit from a recovery - Stating the obvious...cyclical businesses do this. Although the more asset light they become the less leverage they will have on the upside
  • Continue to focus on selling assets and liquidating their timeshare inventory (shrinking the business), and becoming more a brand/fee company

Balance sheet/other:

  • Leverage ratio was 4.3x and there will be no major maturities until 2012
  • Securitization markets have improved markedly over the last 6 months
    • They will be in the market this quarter to complete a securitization deal
  • Hope to close some asset sales in the 4Q (I believe he said $125MM)
  • Think that they will achieve their goal of $3BN of net debt by year end
  • IRS tax refund is delayed to 2010 now

Outlook:

  • While the fact that things are getting better (i.e. less bad) is undeniable, pace of recovery is uncertain
  • Rate of recovery is strongest in Asia ex-India
  • Mexican economy remains one of the weakest markets in Latin America
  • North America - rate accounted for most of the RevPAR decline
  • RevPAR at company operated hotel is tracking down 16% QTD
  • Focus now is entirely on improving rate realization
  • VOI close rates are improving while pricing is very weak
  • Gains from any securitization are not included in guidance...they will likely beat next quarter with the help of this gain though...
  • Group business on the books for 2010 is lower than the low levels they had on the books last year
  • 2010 will be all about business booked for the year and that's very difficult to predict
  • Corporate rate negotiations have just gotten underway and they hope to hold rates flat while customers hope to get a discount to '09
    • Just a reminder corporate rates do not mean guaranteed room nights - just indicative. 
  • Think that MEA will be up a little, in Latin America they expect flat-to-modest growth, NA probably down 5%, and Europe better than US but still weak in 2010
  • Expect that owned hotel RevPAR growth to be a the low end of their guidance range
  • FX should help RevPAR but not margins (no it has the opposite effect on margins)
  • Timeshare - will lose roughly $30MM of interest income, and pre-FASB changes they will have a decrease of EBITDA in timeshare, but post changes they will benefit by $25-30MM in EBITDA.  They will operate the VOI business for cash, meaning that they will only expend capex to finish projects in sellout.  May look to cancel future projects/stages of existing projects and/or lower pricing on products (like MAR) and will probably take a write off charge in 4Q
  • SG&A is expected to increase as they start paying bonuses again and give modest raises to stay competitive in a recovering market

Q&A

  • Pricing for group in 2010/2011 is down but there isn't lot on the books at this point
  • What is normalized capex for next year?
    • Hotel maintenance capex in line with this year
    • Timeshare will just be completion of what is underconstruction
    • Bal Harbour - $330MM to complete - but it's not all going to be spent in 2010
  • Thoughts on assets sales from a pricing perspective, and appetite to unload more assets
    • They want to continue to selectively sell assets - especially non-core assets
      [Just a quick reminder that unlike in the past, these assets are not likely to retain HOT flags in a sale]
    • See more money available for deals than a few months ago and expect that trend to continue if capital market trends continue
  • Sheraton revitalization
    • Unclear what that means re: RevPAR
    • Pace of deflaggings should slow in 2010
  • Bal Harbour - what is the rational for completing this development?
    • As the economy starts to rebound, and more than 50% of their current buyers there are international, they think that the demand will be there
    • The incremental capital required to complete the project was small vis-a-vis cash from closing
  • Owned Margins under various scenarios
    • Think that they will be able to cut a little more cost than they can cut at the hotel level next year
    • Just as an aside, we have noticed that some luxury hotels are no longer providing services such as turndown. In our opinion, this is ok if we're paying $119 to stay at the WYNN but not ok when prices come back
    • However, if RevPAR is down 5%, then margins will decline 250 bps (wow... we think it's a lot more than that, especially given that RevPAR declines are going to be rate driven)
  • Their RevPAR guidance isn't really based on GDP expectations, but rather on trends
  • What was the $9MM increase in "Other Management & Franchisee fees"?
    • FX gains? I think it's a lot of termination fees
  • Think that NY will be a faster recovering market
    • This is because occupancy in NY is around 90% and small changes in occupancy amount to huge changes in rate, since pricing power is all about being close to sold out.  This market always has higher volume
    • China is also expected to recover faster
    • Luxury and Upper Upscale is expected to recover/get less bad faster given that they fell the farthest
  • Any impact of MAR dropping pricing on their residential pricing?
    • Unclear but they certainly indicated that they may be doing some of this as well
    • A large part of MAR's write down was also in fractional and international which HOT doesn't really have
    • Haven't seen a palpable impact from MAR's move
    • Advance rates and interest rates on timeshare are better than they were last time around, so there will likely be gains but don't know how much
  • New franchise agreement for St. Regis?
    • It's a one-off situation
  • Pipeline?
    • Internationally they continue to see robust growth
    • In NA, the hotel financing environment is still very challenged since existing assets are trading at a lower price per key than the cost to build
    • Are in discussions with capital partners to manage distressed assets that the partners may want to acquire
  • Brand standards?
    • Starting to look at standards across brands as a way to save money, and only retain unique things about each brand