Should You Go Upscale When You Invest in Steak Restaurants?

Ruth’s Hospitality Group’s impressive results continue.

Mar 14, 2014 at 6:15PM

How would you like your steak: Australian, Texan, or upscale? Following the results of Ruth's Hospitality Group (NASDAQ:RUTH), Texas Roadhouse (NASDAQ:TXRH), and Bloomin' Brands (NASDAQ:BLMN), the verdict is in. Upscale's the way to go.

Source:  Ruth's Chris

Ruthless results
Ruth's Hospitality Group reported its fiscal fourth-quarter results on Feb. 21. When accounting for the year-over-year calendar change, adjusted earnings per share jumped 28% to $0.28. Same-store sales soared 5.5% for the Steak House chain. Ruth's Hospitality Group notched the 15th quarter in a row of positive same-store sales gains.

CEO Michael O'Donnell credited the success to an "ongoing high level of execution from our franchise partners and all of our Company team members." The company plans to continue expanding its restaurant count while it focuses on driving traffic across "three core customer bases, which include business, special occasion guests and high-frequency regulars." This all sounds a bit vague, and it seems like the macro trends may have had more to do with the easy gains than the company is admitting at first.

O'Donnell added, "We believe that we are well-positioned for improved earnings and cash flow." Ruth's Hospitality Group put its money where its mouth is by raising its quarterly dividend by 25% to $0.05 per share.


Source: Ruth's Chris

It's never too cold for steak
During the conference call, O'Donnell did admit that, as with most restaurant chains, the brutal winter weather has had an effect on Ruth's Hospitality Group's business during the first quarter. Even so, same-store sales continued to tick positive despite this challenge. Ruth's Hospitality Group is on pace to see its 16th quarter in a row of positive same-store sales.

However, the company expects earnings to decline in the first quarter despite the increase in sales. This is due to beef cost inflation and a calendar shift of the Easter and Lenten holidays. The company sees these effects as temporary, and its executives believe 2014 will be another year of overall growth.

Steak is Bloomin'
To understand how strongly upscale-steak restaurants are performing, look no further than Bloomin' Brands. Bloomin' Brands owns four different restaurant concepts which include two different steak chains.

Last quarter, Bloomin' Brands reported same-store sales of between 0.9% and 1.1% for three of those concepts. However, Bloomin' Brands' upscale steak concept outperformed them all, by far. Bloomin' Brands' Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar concepts grew same-store sales by 4.9%, similar to the result Ruth Hospitality Group saw. Compare this to the Outback concept which only saw a 1.1% gain.


Source: Ruth's Chris

Meanwhile, Texas Roadhouse is considered more casual than Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar or Ruth's Chris, but it has been no slacker itself. Last quarter it reported same-store sales gains of 2.1% at company-owned restaurants and 4.5% at franchisees.

The franchisees have a growth rate within shooting range of Fleming's and Ruth's. Texas Roadhouse also complained of beef inflation but it still managed to score a fourth year in a row of positive same-store sales growth, though at a slower pace than Ruth's Hospitality Group.

Foolish final thoughts
The weather is bad, the economy is bad, beef prices are bad, but Ruth's Hospitality Group is doing well. Bloomin' Brands and Texas Roadhouse are doing well too. With Ruth's Hospitality Group able to grow rapidly despite all of these headwinds while outperforming competitors, just imagine how it may do if these headwinds turn for the better. At a P/E of around 17 times analysts' 2014 estimates, Ruth's deserves a closer look by Fools looking for long-term growth and value.

Nickey Friedman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Texas Roadhouse. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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