April 4, 2005
"I love it when a plan comes together." That was one of the catchphrases of that classic TV show The A-Team. And it's a sentiment likely shared by Ashford Hospitality Trust (NYSE: AHT ) CEO Montgomery J. Bennett, given the hotel real estate investment trust's latest quarterly report. As Mr. Bennett pointed out in the conference call, "New supply continues to lag demand while group and corporate business is picking up, shifting the balance of pricing power to hotel owners." Such was the basis of the company's investment strategy when it went public in 2003, and the dividends are starting to emerge -- for the company and shareholders alike.
Fourth-quarter RevPAR (revenue per available room) was up 8.9%, reflecting the hotel owner's pricing power, and hotel operating profit increased a hefty 14.9% over the year-ago quarter. I'd say it's a sign of things to come. You'll see that management is following through on its plan to improve operating margins and control expenses at the property level if you take a look at the same-property hotel operating profit during the fourth quarter: That profit improved by 279 basis points (100 basis points equal one percentage point). And as renovations continue at some of Ashford Hospitality's recently purchased properties, look for RevPAR to continually improve. You can find further evidence of this trend because occupancy at the company's 30 hotels that are not under renovation improved by 285 basis points.
Most importantly for shareholders, Ashford Hospitality has bumped up its dividend for the fifth consecutive quarter. The company is now tossing out 16 pennies per share of stock, which equates to a 6.3% yield. As the dividend continues to increase and now breaks into stock screens with dividends of 5% or greater, it may raise interest in the underlying stock. This latest news puts Ashford Hospitality solidly into the dividend game, along with other strong REITs like Strategic Hotel Capital (NYSE: SLH ) and American Financial Realty (NYSE: AFR ) .
Certainly with this kind of yield, income investors are going to have a very close look -- and they should. Management looks to be executing well, and the hotel business is nowhere near the top of its cycle.
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Fool contributor Lawrence Meyers did his own research for this article. But don't trust him. He's just another anonymous voice in cyberspace, so do your own homework.