Updated from 10:13 a.m. ESTHilton's ( HLT) fourth-quarter earnings came in slightly below Wall Street's forecast, but the hotel operator raised its full-year forecast for revenue per available room, signaling that luxury lodging continues to perform well. Hilton's net income in the quarter nearly doubled to $207 million, or 50 cents a share, from $105 million, or 26 cents a share, a year earlier. The results included several one-time items, including gains on an asset sale and contract termination fees. Excluding items, Hilton reported adjusted earnings of 32 cents a share, a penny below analysts' mean estimate of 33 cents, according to Thomson Financial. The EPS miss mostly was due to results in Hilton's time-share business. The accounting rules for that business recently changed, making analyst projections on the business a little difficult. Hilton's core results, however, remained strong. Owned-hotel margins improved 90 basis points. Revenue per available room, or revpar, rose 10.7% worldwide, driven by strong room rate increases. Revpar is a key hotel performance metric. For 2007, Hilton now sees revpar growth of 9% to 11%, up from its prior forecast of 7% to 9%. Shares of Hilton shares recently were up 82 cents, or 2.4%, to $35.22. The results boosted other hotel stocks as well. Starwood ( HOT) rose $1.51, or 2.5%, to $61.94, and Orient-Express ( OEH) added 92 cents, or 2% to $47.72. Marriott ( MAR) was up 57 cents, or 1.2%, to $47.30.
Although Hilton's margin growth in the quarter beat some analyst estimates, the improvement is still lagging that of the company's peers. Starwood, for example, should post 200 to 300 basis points of margin improvement when it reports its results Thursday, says Dean Frankel, portfolio manager with Urdang Securities Management, which invests in the sector. Hilton's margins have been dragged down by room renovations. On the revpar side, it's not exactly clear how much Hilton's overall performance is being helped by strong foreign currencies that benefit overseas operations.