Sometimes, obscure companies offering the most humdrum, uninteresting, boring products -- say, for instance, cement -- can end up being superior investments. Conversely, well-known companies with popular products don't always translate into great opportunities. I've never once had anything but a great dining experience at Outback Steakhouse
The same underlying problem that ate into the bottom line last quarter -- soaring commodity prices, particularly beef -- continues to plague Outback and rivals such as Lone Star Steakhouse
Each of these factors played a prominent role in the third-quarter shortfall that was announced this morning. Earnings, which were expected to rise 8.3% to $0.52, instead plunged 23% to $0.37. Net income tumbled $9 million to $28.2 million on revenues that jumped 17.2% to $803.5 million.
Same-store sales at Outback's flagship chain managed only a slim 0.9% gain, but comps at the more upscale Fleming's Prime Steakhouse climbed 13.9%. Lone Star reported similar results earlier this month as same-store sales improvements at higher-end concepts such as Texas Land & Cattle (up 11.4%) and Del Frisco's (22.6%) far outpaced the 0.2% rise at the company's namesake units.
The Italian-themed Carrabba's Grill also registered a fractional gain in comps and has a long way to go before reaching the 40 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth that Darden's
Most of Outback's third-quarter weakness can be attributed to causes that are fleeting (such as the weather), rather than more deeply ingrained operating problems. Furthermore, margins should begin to expand once food costs -- not just beef but also dairy and seafood -- begin to moderate. With as many as 150 new restaurants scheduled to open next year, adding to already-healthy top-line growth, Outback may once again be a sound investment as well as a great restaurant.
Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter wouldn't mind a Bloomin' Onion and a pint of Foster's with dinner tonight, but he owns none of the companies mentioned.