Will Bloomin' Brands Remain an Industry Outperformer?

Bucking the trend of its fast-casual restaurant peers, Bloomin' Brands (NASDAQ: BLMN  ) continues to deliver outsize growth to investors. The company behind casual chains Outback, Carrabba's, and Bonefish Grill, as well as steakhouses Fleming's and Roy's, saw its fourth-quarter profit more than triple, though on an adjusted level the gains weren't quite as extraordinary. Predictably, leading the company are the higher-market brands -- a trend that we have seen across all of the corporate restaurant chains in the space. With Fleming's and Roy's driving traffic and same-store sales growth higher, the company was able to post companywide gains despite a very difficult consumer environment. Can investors expect Bloomin' Brands' stellar performance to remain?

Still going strong
Compared to weaker middle-market performance from peers such as Darden Restaurants and Brinker International, Bloomin' Brands' core assets -- Outback, Carrabba's, and Bonefish all posted same-store sales growth in the recently ended quarter (1.1%, 0.9%, and 0.9%, respectively). For comparison, Brinker's Chili's chain posted positive same-store sales figures as well -- up 0.3% in the company's last quarter. Still, that is coming off a 1.3% decline in the comparable year and raw traffic dipped 1.5%.

Darden's Olive Garden and Red Lobster assets continue to tank out on traffic and store-level sales figures. The company is readying to spin off Red Lobster in order to focus further on its other operations.

Bloomin' Brands' best performer was Fleming's with 4.9% comparable-sales growth. The company's premium offerings aren't growing at the same rate as some higher-market peers. Ruth's Hospitality Group recently saw 5.5% growth at its Ruth's Chris chain. This is a benefit of focus, as Ruth's Hospitality is a pure play on the premium chain restaurant industry and has a leading position in customer experience. For a greater illustration of this concept, look no further than the confused and misguided Darden Restaurants.

A buy for tomorrow?
When Bloomin' Brands made its market debut in mid-2012, the stock looked like a typical pricey, overhyped IPO in the hot restaurant sector. While the valuation was undoubtedly rich, the company proved to be a winning point for growth-loving investors who do not belabor the numbers. Today, Bloomin' Brands looks more appropriately valued at under 18 times forward earnings, though that is after 2013's net income more than quadrupled. Growth may be slowing slightly.

Looking ahead, the company anticipates $1.21 in adjusted earnings per share and $4.52 billion in revenue. On the same adjusted basis, that presents roughly 10% earnings growth and a little more than 13% sales growth.

Bloomin' Brands is one of the sector's strongest performers, but the fact remains that it's a richly valued business that should appeal mainly to the valuation-uninterested growth seekers. The company could very well continue its impressive trajectory upward in stock price, but keep in mind that there is significant downside risk. Bloomin' Brands is a more reasonably priced stock today if you believe in the long-term story.

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