Ashford Hospitality Hands Out Money

Ashford Hospitality Trust (NYSE: AHT  ) has performed superbly since it went public in 2003. It's one of the largest publicly traded hotel REITs, with a growing portfolio of well-chosen hotels. Its management clearly laid out a vision from day one and has executed that vision well ever since, rewarding investors with ever-increasing dividends in the process.

So it didn't surprise this Fool when Ashford recently raised its dividend for the sixth consecutive quarter, boosting it from $0.64 per share annually to $0.68. That's a nifty 6.55% dividend yield based on a $10.38 share price. One reason for the dividend increase: a recent deal Ashford negotiated using some clever financing strategies, something CEO Montgomery J. Bennett is famous for. The company purchased 30 Marriott hotels with some of its own cash, $64 million in preferred stock, and a 10-year, $370 million loan from Merrill Lynch (at a sweet fixed rate of only 5.32%).

It all fits with Ashford's expectation upon going public -- that the hotel business is just starting its up-cycle. For 2004, the just-purchased portfolio showed improvements in three key metrics. The occupancy rate improved by 340 basis points to 75.1%, ADR (average daily rate) increased 5.6% to $93.65, and RevPAR (revenue per available room) increased 10.5% to $70.37. For the first quarter of 2005, RevPAR for the portfolio increased 15.6% over the first quarter of 2004.

Ashford now owns 77 core hotels containing 12,679 rooms, with 79% of those rooms carrying Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, or Hyatt brands. The company's total portfolio is 50% full-service and 50% select-service, with 31% upper-upscale hotels, 57% upscale, and 12% mid-scale. That's a nice mix.

All in all, I see a strong company with an extremely well-executed vision. Maybe Matthew Emmert should look at Ashford for his Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter. What do you think?

I've written about Ashford before:

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Fool contributor Lawrence Meyers owns shares in Ashford. That doesn't necessarily mean you should. Do your own research, especially when dealing with complex things like REITs. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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