Maybe you've had a dry-aged steak before. Maybe you've had some wet-aged beef like they serve at Morton's Restaurant Group
- The Morton's of today is better-seasoned than the one that went public 15 months ago at $17 a share.
- It has added six more restaurants to the 69 high-end eateries it had when it went public.
- Comps continue to inch higher, including a modest 0.4% advance this past quarter in a difficult eatery climate.
- It has rolled out its Bar 12-21 concept, replacing older attached bars with a trendier yet accessible crowd-pleaser.
- It beat analyst estimates in its first four quarters as a public company, then simply hit its March quarter target last week.
Sound good? Well, let's go for the sizzle. As good as Morton's seems to be right now, you can buy in today for less than its IPO price.
OK, so maybe I left out a few important facts. The company's smaller Italian concept is struggling. It also earned $0.29 a share this past quarter, lower than the adjusted $0.32 per share it had earned a year earlier. Its new guidance for 2007 -- calling for earnings between $0.91 and $0.93 per share -- is lower than the $1.01 a share that Wall Street was projecting earlier this year.
You get the picture. As an investment, Morton's hasn't lived up to the high expectations that diners have when they step into the primo chophouse. It's not just Morton's. Ruth's Chris
Is that fair? Consolidation in the casual dining steakhouse sector has pushed up valuations for the remaining value-minded chains like Texas Roadhouse
I'd be surprised if private equity firms aren't sniffing around Morton's or Ruth's Chris at this point. Even with the lower guidance, Morton's is still trading for less than 18 times this year's profit targets. The market seems to forget that the Bar 12-21 makeovers will pay off in the long-run. Even if there's only so much further you can grow an upscale chophouse, Morton's still has time to get its Italian concepts back in line, and generate grow there. Either way, you get an attractively priced turnaround situation in Morton's, which may reward investors even sooner, should a buyout come along.
I know it feels funny saying this -- I've eaten at a Morton's, and felt the lightness of my wallet on the way out -- but Morton's is cheap.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys a good steakhouse every now and then, and he welcomes having a Morton's closer to his home in Coral Gables soon. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.