I'd be willing to predict that when the business and economic history of 2006 is written, the markedly escalating pace of private equity buyouts and other privatizations will be the year's salient trend. And the most entertaining of the lengthy list of buyouts may ultimately be the one at Four Seasons Hotels
Clearly this is a potential buyout not lacking in colorful characters, and it includes several of the deepest pockets -- and maybe the longest name -- in U.S. or global business history. In this case the would-be acquirers include Isadore Sharp, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Four Seasons chain; Bill Gates; and Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud. The group has offered $3.7 billion, or $82 a share, for the Toronto-based luxury hotel operator.
More immediately, Four Seasons released the results of its third quarter on Thursday, with revenues under management increasing nearly 16% to $699.2 million. RevPAR (Revenues per available room) rose 9.7% worldwide, and net income for the chain was $10.9 million, or $0.29 per diluted share. A year ago, Four Seasons reported a loss of $11.4 million, or $0.31 per share. The 2005 results were affected by a host of factors, including foreign exchange losses, asset provisions, and writedowns. Without them, the profit for the year-ago quarter would have been $0.22 per share.
But despite the world's fixation on quarterly results, a glance at the nine-month performance clearly carries more weight here, vis-a-vis its ultimate importance to the full year. In that context, the company's gross operating margins at its core hotels have jumped by 180 basis points to 32.3%, and net earnings have reached $0.89 per diluted share, versus just $0.25 per diluted share in the comparable period a year ago.
The hotel business is veritably booming, as witnessed by Four Seasons' across-the-board improvements. But the company is in a league with Hilton Hotels
For now, the spotlight will be on Four Seasons, as the aforementioned colorful buyout band seeks to wrest the company from the public markets. And from where I sit, it's a safe bet that they'll achieve their desired results.
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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your comments.