Forget the porterhouse. Pass the port.
Shares of Ruth's Chris
Hampered by a 4% drop in comps so far this quarter and a projected dip in restaurant operating margins, Ruth's Chris is now looking to earn between $0.19 a share and $0.21 a share in the year's final period (after earning $0.60 a share through the first three quarters). That is well off the $0.38 a share in pro forma profitability that the eatery posted a year ago. It's also short of the $0.33 a share that analysts were expecting.
To be fair, one should add back the $0.02 a share in charges related to the pending acquisition of Mitchell's Fish Market. The company also took a $0.02-per-share hit in pre-opening expenses when it moved one of its 2008 steakhouse openings into the current quarter. Still, it's a major miss, and things may not get much better come 2008.
The company will issue its preliminary 2008 guidance when it officially posts its fourth-quarter results in two months. However, Ruth's is currently saying it will come up short of its long-term profit growth goal of 17.5% next year.
What the heck happened to the high-end chophouses? Even when casual roadhouse joints were struggling, upscale steakhouses were still posting healthy comps gains. But earlier this week, Darden's
This is actually supposed to be the niche's biggest quarter, but the remaining public players are blowing it. Is Del Frisco's really sure it wants to go public? That's like ordering a chocolate souffle while the kitchen is on fire.
With 118 locations, Ruth's Chris won't be saved by a small high-end seafood acquisition. That's another troubled space, with McCormick & Schmick's
Shares of Ruth's Chris have shed half their value since the company's IPO two years ago, and the vultures may start sniffing around at this point. It doesn't mean they'll like the smell.
If the high-end chains are just beginning a pronounced slump, forget the porterhouse. Pass the house.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys several great steakhouses close to home. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.