Back to 'Normal'

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's back to "normal" today, at least in the sense that the markets re-opened Wednesday after a two-day hiatus following Sandy's devastation.

For many, though, especially along the coast, the cleanup has not even started, and the damage was breathtaking. I was ever thankful the past couple of days for several things, not the least of which was our safety and the safety of family and friends.

Times like these put life into perspective, a perspective that is often muted by the hustle and bustle of our daily lives.There is much taken for granted.

We were without power for just 24 hours, but even that short amount of time demonstrated our addictions to technology and comfort. I was thankful to have a fully charged and working BlackBerry (thanks to Research In Motion ( RIMM)), and an extended life battery for my Dell ( DELL) laptop, the combination of which allowed us to keep tabs on the plight of the Jersey shore and those who stayed, primarily Long Beach Island, which has been a part of our family for generations.

The Oreos, and Hershey ( HSY) chocolate bars also came in handy. It's a funny thing when there's no power -- the art of conversation takes on new life. It was a joy to just sit in a candle-lit room and talk, with no distractions. But we had it easy compared to many.

Now it's back to work today, and time to catch up on what we missed the past couple of days. With the markets closed there were several notable earnings releases on Monday and Tuesday that were not yet digested.

On Monday, Plum Creek Timber ( PCL) announced better-than-expected third-quarter revenue ($354 million versus $347 million), and in-line earnings (36 cents a share). Plum Creek is one of the timber names I'm keeping an eye on as a potential inflation hedge.

It was primarily good news from the restaurant names that reported on Monday and Tuesday. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers ( RRGB) reported better-than-expected revenue ($213.3 million compared to $211.7 million) and earnings per share (24 cents against 16 cents), and gross margins improved 0.80 basis points. But you can add Red Robin to the list of restaurant chains that are expecting commodity inflation for 2013; management expects a 5% increase in costs. RRGB Chart RRGB data by YCharts

Newly public chain Chuy's ( CHUY) also reported better-than-expected results, beating estimates on both revenue ($47.9 million versus $43.9 million) and earnings (13 cents versus 12 cents). The Mexican restaurant chain, which went public in July, is up 8% in pre-market trading, and more than 60% since it began trading. CHUY Chart CHUY data by YCharts

Dine Equity ( DIN), parent of Applebee's and IHOP, also reported a strong quarter, beating the consensus on revenue ($216.3 million versus $202.6 million), and earnings ($1.03 versus 93 cents). The company has adopted a "re-franchising" strategy, similar to Denny's ( DENN), selling company-owned Applebee's restaurants to franchisees, helping to reduce the company's debt load to about $1.2 billion, from $1.8 billion at the end of 2010. DIN Chart DIN data by YCharts

Denny's,) which has staged a remarkable comeback the past several years, barely beat the consensus on revenue ($120.9 million from $120.6 million), but missed badly on earnings (6 cents from 9 cents). On a positive note, the company reduced total debt by about $9 million, and repurchased one million shares during the quarter.

Denny's also opened 12 new units (franchised), and signed a deal to open 10 in Chile. Sometimes it's hard to believe that this older chain, that was bankrupt not all that long ago, is actually growing. I thought I was seeing things on the way to the airport following a mission trip in the Dominican Republic this past summer, but there it was, a huge billboardfor the new Denny's at the Santo Domingo airport, the first in that country. This company seemingly has nine lives. DENN Long Term Debt Chart DENN Long Term Debt data by YCharts

To those who are surveying the damage today and trying to figure out how to move forward, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

At the time of publication the author had a position in DENN.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Jonathan Heller, CFA, is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.

Jon is also the founder of the Cheap Stocks Web site, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.

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