After Applebee's International
The appetizer looked promising. Applebee's hit the consensus analyst estimate for the previous quarter of $0.34 per diluted share, a respectable 13% increase over last year's earnings, and comparable restaurant sales rose 2.7% in the period. The company also announced that it had bought back $35 million of common shares at an average price of $24.87 and unveiled further plans to buy back more stock, to the tune of $150 million, in 2005.
But as far as the good news went, it stopped with the main entrée.
The most serious item was that Applebee's reduced its fourth-quarter projected earnings to $0.28 to $0.30 per share and also guided 2004 fiscal year earnings downward to $1.30-$1.32. On average, Wall Street analysts had expected Applebee's to earn $0.32 in the fourth quarter and $1.35 for the year.
Also of concern was the announcement that October fiscal period comparable store sales were up 1.7% overall but down 0.4% in company-owned restaurants. That last number is notable because company-owned restaurant sales decreased for the September fiscal period as well, by 0.1%.
Why are company-owned sales down two months in a row? To tick them off in order: Olympics, hurricanes, and -- no joke -- baseball playoffs. It turns out that 26% of company-owned Applebee's restaurants are in the St. Louis and New England areas, where fans stayed home to watch the games. Companies love to blame underperformance on one-time events, and in this case it's no different -- as far as one-time events go, the Olympics, hurricanes, and even the Red Sox getting to the World Series can be filed under that category.
And while investors should always be skeptical of such explanations, in this case management may have connected the right causal factors with the correct outcomes. Netflix
Currently, at 15 times forward earnings -- adjusted for the after-hours price and updated guidance -- the company is afforded a valuation no different than its peers and doesn't offer much in terms of a margin of safety. And though the balance sheet looks quite healthy, until investors can discern whether temporary effects are really behind slowed comps, I would hold off on purchasing more shares.
Fool contributor Marko Djuranovic owns shares of Netflix but no other companies mentioned in this article.