Marriott International (NASDAQ:MAR) stock has run up 35% year to date, benefiting from the hotelier's expansion over the last few years to its now more than 4,000 properties worldwide. Compared with competitors such as Hilton Worldwide (NYSE:HLT) and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide (NYSE: HOT), Marriott looks like the growth story to watch. But following this run-up in share price, the company's continued growth may face headwinds, and while we don't know what will happen with the stock price, here are three reasons the stock could fall.
1. Political risks in developing areas
One of the main growth drivers for Marriott in recent years has been the company's expansion in developing areas of the world, such as the Middle East. However, while expansion into these growth markets has excited investors enough to raise the stock price considerably, political risks in some of these areas could affect guest numbers and earnings enough to affect Marriott's stock price.
Political uncertainty can be an issue for any company, but especially for a company that makes money based on having people sleep in these potentially risky areas. Such is the case in parts of the Middle East and Latin America where conflict in and among countries has caused safety and stability concerns that have led to more difficult operations for Marriott.
In the company's recent earnings release, management called out "rapid changes in government policy, political or civil unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere, acts of terrorism, or the threat of international boycotts or U.S. anti-boycott legislation" as risk factors for Marriott's current business. Similar risks are present in some of Marriott's Latin American markets as well, such as in Venezuela, where the government has been unable to control extreme inflation, causing Marriott to remove three properties from its earnings numbers altogether to avoid skewing the reported data.
2. Deals in China are taking longer than before
Massive growth in China over the last decade helped Marriott and many other hotel chains to make huge gains in their bottom lines. China's economic growth and rise of the middle and upper classes that make up the bulk of Marriott guests were why Marriott committed to aggressively expand in the country.
However, things have started to slow down in China. In it's 2013 10K filing, Marriott noted that "Demand in the Asia Pacific region continued to moderate, as our hotels in China experienced weaker government-related travel, moderating economic growth, and new supply in several markets." Marriott management noted in its most recent earnings conference call that deals are already starting to take longer in China than they did before.
While the company is still seeing year-over-year growth in China, and hotel expansion in the country is not stopping, slowing expansion and declining revenue growth there might be one reason that investors get cold feet about Marriott's future growth potential. Since some of that growth has surely already been priced in to Marriott's stock at a P/E of 29 times, then a lowered growth rate or even flat-line growth in China could be enough to lower Marriott's stock price in the coming quarters.
3. Competition in emerging markets
Emerging market expansion seems to be a theme of hotel growth in the years to come. Regardless of political risk in the areas, each of the major hotel companies is seeking to expand in Latin America and Africa, two of Marriott's most promising regions.
Marriott's room development pipeline in Latin America has nearly doubled in the past 12 months, with 35 projects currently under way. However, Hilton and Starwood are both expanding in Latin America as well. Marriott's RevPAR (revenue per available room) could reach double-digit growth rates for properties in Latin America by year's end. But more and more properties in the region from competitors like Hilton and Starwood Hotels could saturate the market and drive room rates down. This would hurt Marriott's RevPAR growth in the region.
The same is true in Africa, where Marriott already is, and hopes to stay, the leading hotelier. After acquiring Protea Group in April, Marriott then announced plans to add even more hotels to its Africa portfolio in the years to come with an additional 40 properties in up to 13 African nations by 2020.
However, Hilton also wants a larger presence in Africa and has a reported pipeline of 6,230 rooms at 23 hotels in Africa to open over the next few years. Likewise, Starwood is also reporting expansion of Sheraton and W Hotels in Africa. Regarding the opening of Starwood's 10th property in Nigeria, Starwood VP Bart Carnahan said that "Nigeria remains to be an important growth market for Starwood and we see a significant opportunity in growing our mid-market brands in the country and throughout all of Africa."
While expansion in emerging markets is driving Marriott's growth now, some of that growth is already priced in to the stock price. As other companies also start to make strong bets in these regions, the revenue growth and room rates possible in these areas could be lowered, giving investors a reason to pull back on Marriott.
Foolish final take: Marriott still looks like a great long-term play
While Marriott will have headwinds with political uncertainties, slowing growth in China, and competition in emerging markets, the company still looks like a very strong bet on its current expansion plans. The company is doing a great job of diversifying itself with about 50% of its properties in North America and 50% international, as well as being the first and largest to take advantage of new developing regions. For these reasons, regardless of the risks above, Marriott looks like it will be the company to beat for the next few years as its current development takes its future revenue growth even further.