Food Costs . . . Up and to the Right!

Our inboxes routinely get inundated with emails from subscribers who agree with us or disagree with us.  It is human nature to react to either support your thesis, or to counteract a point that is contrary to your thesis.  Inflation is probably the most debated topic at the moment.


Is it just easy comps?


CPI and PPI are still low on a relative basis, no?


Commodities are signaling serious inflation.


What about low wages, they are indicating deflation?


Both the inflation bulls and the inflation bears can point to great arguments on both sides of the argument; we try our best to point to facts.  As the facts change, so shall we.


But, as the chart below highlights, in many important categories, we are seeing real inflation.  Food input prices are up meaningfully year-to-date, and are in inflationary mode.


Remember, food and gasoline combine to almost 20% of the average consumer’s annual spending.  Even if the government tells you differently, when those prices go up, it is inflationary.


As it relates to specific equities, though, as our Restaurant Guru Howard Penney recently said to me, “Energy and food costs are accelerating and restaurant valuations are at near all time highs . . .something is not sustainable.”  Indeed.



Daryl G. Jones

Managing Director


Food Costs . . . Up and to the Right! - pork


GIL: KM Covering

GIL: KM Covering


Keeping a trade a trade. We have longer-term concerns about this business, but the company has 2 more good quarters ahead of it before that matters. But Keith shorted as it was overbought with high expectations and cotton heading higher. Now it is holding TRADE line support of $28.61. We'll revisit at a different time/price.  


GIL: KM Covering - GIL




"While the domestic RevPAR and franchise sales environment remained challenging during the first quarter, the company's overall franchise sales results and recent RevPAR trends indicate some stabilization in this environment"

- Stephen P. Joyce, president and chief executive officer



  • Their 1Q RevPAR includes December.  Are encouraged that the pace of decline has moderated
  • March and first few weeks of April - occupancies have turned positive and ADR declines have moderated.  RevPAR is down mid-single digits. 
    • So expect a decline of -2% in 2Q09
  • Domestic franchise development has been negatively impacted by reductions in property level profits and limited availability of financing has hampered their growth
  • Hearing that property transactions are picking up from the brokerage community
  • Have 2-3 Cambria units opening later this year
  • Near term prospects are better for Ascend as a conversion brand than that for Cambria
  • Surpassed the 10MM mark for members in CHH privilege - members accounted for 26% of revenues - up 500 bps y-o-y
  • Applications received declined by 29% for new franchises y-o-y. Have seen some encouraging signs of stabilization in development recently.
  • 18 relicensing transactions - down 49% volume wise - due to lack of transactions
  • Optimistic that conversion opportunities will increase in the near term


  • MAR's guidance has more transient and urban customers and they have easier comps - so it's not exactly comparable
  • For the last decade, 4-9% of their fees are from initial franchise and relicensing fees- average of the last 10 years is 6%. Assume it gets better from current levels but unclear when it will return to average rates.
    • Need to get back to a normalized transaction environment which will really help the conversion market
  • Looks like removals have been pretty high the last few quarters and sequentially no room growth, why?
    • New construction pipeline is drying up as more hotels open - only 80 new hotels projected to open in 2010
    • Conversions are holding up better but still depressed. Conversion hotels open 3-9 months from signing- so you don't see it in the pipeline
    • More terminations from their portfolio - because they are enforcing brand standards, and franchisees are having credit difficulties
    • Expect to get back to net 2% room growth in the next few years
  • Relicensing only happens when a sale of a unit occurs
  • They historically have a 90% retention rate with franchisees
    • saying that they initiate most of the terminations
  • They have converted a lot of properties in their system to lesser brands--however, when properties leave their system, they either go to Wyndham brands or just become independents
  • Share repurchase program? Why did it trail off?
    • Price is a factor. Their approach is opportunistic. Cost of capital and liquidity are also factors.
  • While there have been a growing number of foreclosures, those assets aren't hitting the market as much as they thought.
    • Banks are extending more.
    • Given the upswing in RevPAR, owners are holding on more and funding negative FCF in hopes of an upturn
  • Initial franchise and relicensing fees- timing?
    • There is usually a 6 month lag between transaction pickups and growth there.
  • Is CHH interested in acquiring an UUP brand?
    • Yes... they are interested in an Upper Upscale full service. Ascend is partly helping them there - although it's a more "boutiquey" brand
  • April has been running relatively comparable to March. Occupancy is up slightly - but overall, fairly similar. They have less volatility than full service brands, and they are more leisure oriented.
  • Very little visibility into the summer season - their booking window is 7-10 days on average.
  • Marketing and reservation receivables?  When will they start billing their franchisees without getting the money back from their franchisees?
    • They do bill marketing and reservation fees and collect them every month--it's just that in certain periods they spend more then they receive. During the last lodging downturn they saw the same cycle of the receivable growing and then decreasing once things recovered. They are also investing in their international systems.
    • Expect modest growth in that receivable over the next few years and then a gradual decrease
    • Think it's critical to have that marketing spend during the downturn
  • Is their typical franchisees still making money given the declines in RevPAR? What is the health of their system?
    • Average operating margin is 40-50%. So it's probably half of that now and their cash flow is really dependent on how much leverage is on the property.
    • They have seen some modest deterioration in the health of their franchisee systems - but no different from last year.
    • Have not seen a material uptick in foreclosures in their system.
    • Think that they are making money - just less of it
    • Their franchisees have exposure to multiple brands typically - and they believe that their brands are fairing better than others so that should help them in the future
  • Expect that RevPAR is flat in 3Q and positive in 4Q.  Driven by occupancy growth
  • Central reservation system makes up 1/3 of their revenues- which is consistent over the last few years. OTAs are only 6% of their distribution, and they are relatively flat

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Slot replacements should easily exceed 50k this year.



With IGT and WMS already reporting and per discussion with some industry contacts, we think slot replacements should exceed 13,000 for Q1. Last year, replacements were roughly 8,500; so big y-o-y growth.  We suspect Q2 could be even better. PNK just said on their conference call that they were increasing maintenance capex this year in part to more slot purchases. For all of 2010, we think replacements will exceed 50k, up from our previous estimate of 47k.


What is there not to like?



"Pinnacle generated solid first quarter operating results which reflect the initial benefits of our heightened focus on achieving operating efficiencies and exercising financial discipline throughout the Company. Our success with these strategies in the first quarter should provide an excellent foundation for further progress throughout the balance of the year.  Our operating and growth strategy is to build profitable revenue through the Company's commitment to a 'best-in-market' approach to the guest experience, further operating efficiency improvements and a disciplined view on capital spending and expansion."

- Anthony Sanfilippo, president and chief executive officer of Pinnacle Entertainment



PNK's numbers this morning blew away expectations, even ours, which were materially above the Street and this is just the first quarter of their "reorganization."  The beat was clean and across every property driven primarily by lower unproductive promotional and marketing expenses.



  • "Pinnacle's L'Auberge du Lac and Boomtown Bossier City properties recorded improvements in operating margins related to cost discipline, with L'Auberge generating its second-best quarterly Adjusted EBITDA despite a small revenue decline. These benefits were partially offset by lower spend-per-visit at Boomtown New Orleans relative to last year and the impact of the June 2009 opening of an expanded and re-branded riverboat casino near Pinnacle's Belterra Casino Resort"
  • "River City Casino generated positive Adjusted EBITDA in its first month of operations despite such higher costs."
  • "In Baton Rouge, our development project will diversify Pinnacle's operations into an attractive new market that we believe is currently underserved.  We are actively engaged in the design phase of the project.  Current plans call for the property to feature a modern dockside riverboat casino with at least 1,300 slot machines, 50 table games, a hotel with at least 100 rooms and other amenities."
    • "In March 2010, Pinnacle entered into a guaranteed maximum price contract for the development of its Baton Rouge"
  • "In March 2010, the Company received a $6.5 million legal settlement related to the recovery of legal fees."
  • "During the quarter, Pinnacle incurred severance costs of approximately $1.0 million due to employee terminations."
  • "In April 2010, Pinnacle completed the sale of its corporate aircraft for gross proceeds of $10.5 million. In addition, Pinnacle has begun the process of selling its two seaplanes."
  • "The President Casino is currently scheduled to close on June 28, 2010, at which time it will be considered a discontinued operation."


  • Will focus on building a world class marketing team
  • Just at the beginning of establishing a disciplined approach to manage their business
  • Will focus on how they can be a better company in their internal meetings taking place over the next few days
    • Anthony sounds like the "Anti-Dan"... did I hop on the right call?
  • Centralizing purchasing decisions to lower costs and get better service
  • Have over 10,000 slot machines today and hired a guy that is going to help better yield manage their slot floors and get better pricing/deals from manufacturers
  • Had some help from the consumer in 1Q2010 and took much better care of that revenue than in 4Q09.  Were more careful with marketing spend
  • If you compare 1Q2010 to 1Q09, in 1Q09 they didn't feel the recession yet- (ie their costs were still high)
  • Capex:  Cash capex in the quarter was $59MM (RC = $42MM, Bossier = $3MM, $1-1.5 across several other properties and spent $7.5MM wrapping up Sugarcane Bay - last quarter of spend)
  • $45MM to Baton Rouge, will spend $40-45MM on maintenance Capex - as they step up spend to refresh their slot floors


  • It's premature to say whether this is the new operating margin run rate. "We are at the beginning of really taking a look at how to manage our company in a way that doesn't cut cost mindlessly"
    • My guess is that there is room to improve since this is just the first quarter of implementing changes
  • Pleased with the start of River City - but it's just the beginning.  Several competitors have been very aggressive in sending out promotions. They will not break out the 2 St. Louis properties
    • Have 1 marketing team overseeing both properties
    • Have 1 HR department
    • Basically being careful about not cannibalizing each other
  • Wind-down cash costs for Sugarcane Bay?
    • About $10MM - $4MM of which is to put things back in service that Dan took out...bulk of it will be in 2Q.  Putting back lighted surface parking lot and bus stop with a canopy area.  Thinks they can have that back up by end of May
  • What is the possibility of a license returning to the market near Sugarcane Bay?
    • Haven't heard of anyone wanting to be in that market
    • Risks to adding another license in that market - and thinks it will deter people from entering - for example - ISLE has 2 licenses - and the second does 12% of their total revenue and combined those 2 do less than 50% of what they do with one
  • Baton Rouge - any change of downsizing budget?
    • Costs are more likely to go up with enhancing the scope given the size of the site (500 acres)
  • Belterra - has consistently had issues - what's the opportunity there?
    • Hasn't been there yet. He's focused his time early on Louisiana and St. Louis.  He hasn't formed an opinion on that property yet
  • Update on sales of discontinued operations?
    • Yes - but there is nothing to report yet.  Hope to announce things soon (Sounds like the Argentina stuff will happen soon but that AC will take a while)
  • Texas?
    • Believes Texas is closer to having gaming then ever before - but what that means in terms of probability of getting gaming is hard to know
    • Oklahoma has over 100 casinos. With plenty within an hour of the Texas border.
    • Chickasaw is close to closing on a racetrack in Dallas
    • Rick Perry, the Governor, says that he will not support the expansion of gaming in the state- but it's unclear whether he would support slots at tracks.
    • When they looked at Sugarcane Bay - the potential of gaming in TX was a deterrent
  • Think that the St. Louis market growth that was seen in March will decrease to a lower rate of around 2% in 2Q2010. 
  • Run rate on corporate expense?
    • Can't nail that down yet - since they are still liquidating that.  For example - the jet that just sold - and then when the hanger lease expires at the end of June it will decrease again. 
    • Have already consolidated their corporate offices - now in Spanish Ridge Avenue as of last weekend
  • Argentina?
    • Expect to come to a resolution relatively soon
  • The $8MM of corporate includes $300k of severance - the rest is spread throughout the properties.
    • More slimming to come
  • Any interest in bidding on last Kansas license?
    • They are evaluating all opportunities out there
  • What will they do with the cash proceeds from Argentina?
    • Pay down the R/C even though it's an unrestricted sub
    • Argentina did $9.1MM of EBITDA last year
  • Thoughts of tapping the bond market?
    • No maturity until 2012 - have plenty of time
    • Will continue to be opportunistic in tapping the markets
    • They can fund Baton Rouge on the RC and from FCF and proceeds from asset sales... they have plenty of liquidity


Restaurants yesterday did not show much broad-based strength with decliners outnumbering advancers.


After last week’s earnings-driven run in restaurant stocks, it will be interesting to see how this week unfolds.  Today we have BWLD, PEET, KONA, and PNRA all reporting their 1Q10 earnings.  All of these names traded down on weak volume except KONA, which outperformed all of its peers as it has done for the last 30 days.  Also this week, PF Chang’s, Burger King, and Ruth’s Chris are reporting over the next few days.


In terms of costs, expectations for a surge in meat prices are growing.  A Bloomberg article yesterday outlined the factors behind this expectation.  Supplies of beef, pork, and poultry are estimated to be the lowest since 1997 due to the surging cost of feed forcing farmers to reduce herd sizes.  Given the high levels of unemployment, this rising cost being passed on to consumers could lead to further value-seeking for those visiting restaurants at a time when restaurant stocks are at near-record levels.


TALES OF THE TAPE - stocks 427


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Howard Penney

Managing Director

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