Suburban Lodges of America
Price (12/24/97): $13 1/8
HOW DID IT FIND TROUBLE?
Lesson #1 for a public company: Don't choose a stock symbol that makes for
easy Daily Trouble puns. Lesson #2: Don't miss earnings estimates by 39%
two months after doing a stock offering.
After doubling between May and October to an all-time high of $30 1/4,
extended-stay hotel chain Suburban Lodges saw its roof cave-in on December
16 when it said fourth quarter earnings would be $0.11 to $0.12 per share,
below estimates of $0.18. The stock was -- you guessed it -- slammed for
a $6 3/16 loss, closing at $13 a share after trading as low as $10 1/2.
Chair/CEO David E. Krischer said that 13 of the firm's 26 new hotel openings
for 1997 will take place in the last two months of the year, concentrating
expenses in the quarter and dragging down earnings. Also, three franchised
hotels due to open this quarter won't be ready for suburbanites until the
first quarter of 1998. Finally, the same-store occupancy rate, running at
92.6% in the third quarter, should fall to 85% this quarter, also less than
Given that the company raised $80 million in a mid-October offering of 3.3
million shares at $25 1/2, this surprise was more than bad form. Last Friday,
some lodge members (i.e. Suburban shareholders) filed a class-action lawsuit
charging that the company knew it wouldn't meet earnings estimates when the
stock offering was done.
Atlanta-based Suburban Lodges develops, owns, manages, and franchises economy
extended-stay hotels. As of September 30, there were 43 Suburban hotels (24
company-owned, 19 franchised), with 27 more under construction and another
40 sites in development. The company had expected to have 60 hotels open
by year-end, with another 46 (24 company-owned) planned for 1998. Most are
located in the Southeast, especially Atlanta, though the company has ventured
into Texas as well as the Midwest.
The 134 guest rooms per lodge feature a living room/bedroom, bathroom, and
kitchenette. Other amenities cable TV and coin laundries onsite, but no
restaurant or pool. The average weekly rate runs around $154 compared to
an equivalent average weekly rate of $539 for other extended-stay hotels
such as Marriott's Residence Inns and $275 for economy hotels.
Suburban appeals to an apparently underserved market that includes business
travelers with no expense accounts, people on temporary work assignments,
folks relocating or purchasing a home, tourists, and others who want inexpensive
lodging and the opportunity to cook their own meals.
The average guest stays five weeks. The occupancy rate for hotels opened
more than a year was 93% earlier this year, versus 79% for other extended-stay
hotels and 60% for economy hotels. The long stays limit the need for desk
help. Suburban also saves money by cleaning and changing the linen on a weekly
basis. The cookie-cutter lodges cost $3.9 million to build and have been
reaching 90% occupancy 90 days after opening.
Krischer and other insiders own 3.9 million shares. The company went public
at $17 a share in May 1996 and went back to the equity markets in October
1996 and October 1997. Competitors include Wayne Huizenga's Extended Stay
America (NYSE: ESA).
12-month sales: $19.4 million
12-month income: $5.9 million
12-month EPS: $0.51
Profit Margin: 30.4%
Market Cap: $202.5 million
Cash: $33.5 million*
Current Assets: $36.4 million*
Current Liabilities: $16.7 million
Long-term Debt: $25 million
(*Excludes approximately $80 million raised in October secondary offering)
HOW COULD YOU HAVE SEEN IT COMING?
In mid-October, Suburban was trading for $26 a share, or about 42 times First
Call consensus FY97 earnings estimates of $0.62 and 24.3 times FY98 estimates
of $1.07. So the stock was certainly pricey, though hardly outrageous if
you thought the hotel chain could deliver on projected growth. Based on the
enthusiastic reception for the secondary offering, Wall Street agreed.
Then again, were the analysts accounting for the 21% share dilution due to
the offering? And surely the company must have known (and investors should
have asked) what affect all the hotel openings would have on fourth quarter
expenses. Plus, what's Suburban worth if the funds for expansion dry up?
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
In the third quarter, EPS rose 125% to $0.18 per share on a 163% increase
in revenues. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization
(EBITDA) tripled to $3.9 million. Still, Suburban saw only a negligible increase
in the average weekly rate (AWR) for hotels opened more than a year, and
revenue per available room (REVPAR) actually fell 3.4% to $142.21.
Taking all company-owned hotels into account, the AWR sank 9% to $158.86
and REVPAR dropped 0.4%. The culprits? Strong demand related to the summer
'96 Olympics in Atlanta versus the lease-up of new hotels this year.
The fourth quarter results ought to be examined closely, but Krischer said
on December 15 that he expects Suburban's "strong annual growth to continue
into 1998." With the recent offering, the company appears to have enough
cash for next year's planned openings.
Bear Stearns downgraded the stock from "attractive" to "neutral" after the
earnings warning. More downgrades and earnings cuts are likely to follow.
Though Suburban sports terrific profit margins, net income is small enough
for lawsuit-related legal expenses to hurt. Finally, its trailing return
on equity is just 5.4%, meaning the business has been a lousy investment
as compared to bonds or just about anything else.
Nonetheless, Suburban appears to have a winning formula for those who can
buy equity at a discount, as one can now. For comparison, Extended Stay America
has an enterprise value ($1,129 million) to nine-month sales ratio of 12.9,
while Suburban's enterprise value ($136 million, after subtracting $24 million
for fourth quarter development costs) to nine-month sales ratio is just 8.2.
Meanwhile, Extended Stay's operating margins after depreciation and amortization
but before one-time charges were 20.5% in the third quarter and 15.4% for
the first nine months of '97. By contrast, comparable Suburban margins (which
include franchisor fees) were 36.8% and 35.3%, respectively. Either Extended
Stay is still overextended even near its lows, or Suburban may now be a real
The caveat is that Suburban remains a growth story only as long as equity
financing remains an option. If the recent earnings debacle proves a longer-term
obstacle to such financing, then Suburban Lodges could be sent to the slammer.
-- Louis Corrigan
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