On June 9, Brinker International held an analyst day in New York City. At the meeting, management cut guidance for fiscal 2017. But the guidance still seems unrealistic.
For fiscal 2017, Brinker said net comparable-store sales would be between 0.5% and 2% and adjusted earnings would fall between $3.40 and $3.50 per share. The company also claimed it can support 10% to 15% annualized earnings growth with just 1% to 3% same-store sales growth. In the last five years, Chili's had its best year in 2015. It reported 2% same-store sales, but Maggiano's hasn't reported a comp above 1% in at least three years. Fiscal 2016 same-stores sales are expected to be down 2% to 2.5%.
With such inconsistent performance, it's hard to see how Brinker can get more folks to the dining table. Even if the company can get more people in the door, wage and food inflation are constantly pressuring margins. Store-level margins are down about 40 basis points year over year.
The company is working hard to improve the menu and offer innovate offerings. The company believes Millennials (who are 18 to 34 years old) and Generation Z (who are 17 and younger) are the sweet spot for the company, because Chili's patrons tend to skew young. In addition to baby back ribs, it is launching a hand-crafted burger, top-shelf tacos and new sizzling steaks to appeal to those customers.
One of Brinker's biggest problems has been growing alcohol sales. At Chili's, just 14% of revenue is alcohol, while 21% of TGI Friday's sales are alcohol. Right now 70% of Chili's alcohol sales are margaritas and beer. It launched "Margarita Madness" last April, which drove alcohol sales up 80 basis points.
In fiscal 2017, Chili's is expanding its Happy Hour with $3, $4 and $5 appetizers as well as premium margaritas. The company is also dramatically expanding its bar taps. Currently, most restaurants have just six taps. Brinker plans to double the number of craft beers on tap by adding an additional six taps.
Another market where Brinker lags its competitors is take-out sales. To-go sales at Chili's are just 12% of revenue. Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) leads the quick-service industry with 22% of sales from take-out. Brinker management believes it can leverage its mobile app to drive to-go sales. At the analyst meeting, management said online ordering sales were up 18%.
The company has also joined the Plenty loyalty card program, which rewards patrons when they shop at participating retailers. Brinker hopes to drive customers to redeem points at its restaurants.
Brinker is also completely re-launching its advertising program. From fiscal 2015 to 2016, the company spent 7% less on advertising and was disappointed with the results. Management feels there is too much "sameness" in quick-service television ads and vowed to stir it up with more creative advertising. Management is planning to increase advertising 16% in 2017.
Brinker reports fourth-quarter fiscal 2016 and year-end results on Aug. 11, before the market open. Analysts are expecting fourth-quarter earnings of $1.23 per share on revenue of $881.4 million. For the year, the company is expected to produce $3.26 billion in revenue, up 8.5% year over year. The results include 103 restaurants bought in the first quarter and an extra week in the accounting year.
But I can't see the stock trading above $50 per share, or about 14 times estimates of $3.50. (And I think $50 per share is a generous estimate!) Historically, the stock has rarely traded above 15 times forward estimates.
If I'm right, Brinker investors could continue to suffer from indigestion.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.