Good-Bye Ruby Tuesday?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Casual-dining restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday (RT) issued a press release last week meant to show investors that the company is taking steps to turn itself around, but what it told me is that the road to recovery may be a long one.

Coming on the heels of worse-than-expected results for its fiscal first quarter and then the sudden resignations of the company's chairman and a key vice president, plus a downgrade of its debt by Moody's deeper into junk territory, the press release gave more details about the cost-cutting initiatives Ruby Tuesday is undertaking in attempts to right its ship.

In its efforts to cut $6 million from its selling, general and administrative costs beginning in 2015, the company is reviewing its cost structure. The first move will be the elimination of 50 jobs at its Maryville, Tenn., restaurant support center. Next, the restaurant chain will hire a consulting firm to help it cut cost of goods sold and other restaurant operating costs.

Don't get me wrong, cost cutting here is a positive move, but I've been to this rodeo before. Usually, when a company gets to this point, the road to recovery is longer than investors might expect, and it begs the question why these cost-cutting initiatives were not in place sooner.

Such austerity announcements are meant to bolster investor confidence, and sometimes they are effective in accomplishing that, at least in the short term. But if the company can't deliver in the ensuing quarters, investors will lose patience. We saw that to a certain extent with Wendy's ( WEN), which foundered for several years, before it finally showed signs of improvement in the past year or so.

Ruby Tuesday is a rarity in the restaurant sector these days: The stock is down year to date, one of just two of 39 restaurant stocks I track that have fallen. In fact, down 11%, it's also the worst performer -- BJ's Restaurants ( BJRI), down 10%, is the other -- of the entire group.

Last quarter's results were downright ugly, as revenue fell 11% to $289.7 million, which was below analysts' average estimate of $298 million. The bottom line was even worse -- a loss of 36 cents a share, versus estimates of a loss of 5 cents a share. Same-store sales fell 11.4%.

The company blamed the economy, which admittedly isn't in great shape, but that hasn't stopped other restaurant chains from flourishing.

Ruby Tuesday hasn't been able to differentiate itself from other casual-dining chains. An altered menu a couple of years back -- which I sampled and was impressed with -- seemed to be a step in the right direction. But the recent rollout of burgers on pretzel buns, a growing trend, hasn't been successful so far. I sampled these, too, but was unimpressed. In fact, I found the Wendy's version to be much tastier.

This is not the first time Ruby Tuesday has struggled: In early 2009, it appeared that the chain might be going under, as shares traded below $1. But despite current problems, today's Ruby Tuesday is in better shape. Total debt has been reduced from $605 million at the end of 2008 to $275 million, and it has a significant real estate portfolio, owning 324 locations (land and building), and an additional 265 (building only). That's a considerable real estate portfolio for a company with a $650 million market cap. RT Chart RT data by YCharts

Now, the company just needs to better establish its brand and put customers in the seats, both tall orders.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

At the time of publication, Heller was long XXXX.

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.

More from Opinion

AAP Exclusive: Cramer Says The President is No Longer on the Side of the Bulls

AAP Exclusive: Cramer Says The President is No Longer on the Side of the Bulls

Why It Makes Perfect Sense for Netflix and Amazon to Buy Up Movie Theaters

Why It Makes Perfect Sense for Netflix and Amazon to Buy Up Movie Theaters

2 More Reasons to Sell All Your Stocks and Run Away

2 More Reasons to Sell All Your Stocks and Run Away

Sean Hannity's Link to Trump Lawyer Raises Questions: Doug Kass Insider

Sean Hannity's Link to Trump Lawyer Raises Questions: Doug Kass Insider

Netflix Blowout Earnings Remind Investors of One Thing: This Company Is a Beast

Netflix Blowout Earnings Remind Investors of One Thing: This Company Is a Beast