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Wed, April 1 at 7:00PM ET

Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. Takes an Asset-Light Approach

Hilton's asset-light approach should work in a growing economy

Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NYSE:HLT) shot up 6.3% on April 11, a gain of almost $1.5 billion, after buying out its Chinese investors.

To buy back about one-quarter of its equity, Hilton will do a secondary offering of 60 million shares at $73 each. HNA Group Co. had been under pressure from the Chinese government to sell, but will still pocket a profit of about $2 billion on a $6.5 billion investment it made just over a year ago.

Further gains in Hilton stock were expected April 12 with HLT opening at almost $82 per share (though it closed up just 0.43%).

All this is great for China, but before you put out your buy orders on Hilton stock it might help to understand that hotel chains aren’t chains anymore. They’re branded franchises, and this has changed the nature of the game.

The Franchise Game

When hotels were chains, companies like Hilton owned the buildings. As franchises, building owners are under contracts they can renegotiate and get out of at each expiration.

This may be why some of your favorite hotels keep changing names. A Sheraton becomes a Hilton becomes a Holiday Inn becomes a Marriott, as hotel owners look to secure the best deal.

This puts hotel owners under pressure to perform for property owners, to find ways to squeeze out costs and hand them more profit. One way to do that is to cut commissions to the people selling the rooms, and they’re doing that — even for the big blocks sold to meeting planners for conventions.

The good news is that franchising is highly profitable. The bad news is that it’s both competitive and can result in choppy results.

Hilton, for instance, had net income of nearly $1.26 billion in 2017, on total revenue of $9.14 billion. That sounds great, but the company earned just $348 million in 2016, on revenue of nearly $7.38 billion.

For the quarter ending in March, due to be reported April 26, analysts expect net income of 48 cents per share on revenues of $2.28 billion.  Sounds good, but the price to earnings ratio of 20.7 is based on 2017 earnings of $3.85 per share. And if you buy now, remember, you’re being diluted by that huge secondary that came in at $73 per share.

A Good Business

Despite this, hotels have been a very good investment over the last year. Shares in rival Marriott International Inc. (NYSE:MAR) are up 44% in the last year. With the recent gains on the HNA deal Hilton has nearly matched that, with a gain of over 39% since last April.

Whether the good times keep rolling depends on the economy, and another look at that meeting planner news may hold some clues. While cutting commissions to meeting planners, Hilton has also been fattening the discounts it offers to get groups, to as much as 30%. Add in commissions and other fees and hotels are getting 44% less per room per night from meetings than from other business.

The asset-light approach also means hotel companies like Hilton have multiple brands competing with one another in the same markets, often for the same meetings. Hilton has 14 brands, ranging from the low-end Homewood Suites through the middle-class Hampton Inn to the luxury Waldorf Astoria.

The Bottom Line on Hilton Stock

Assuming the economy stays strong you can expect good financial results from Hilton stock. With HNA out of the way it may now pursue other deals, but with its resorts and company-owned Park Hotels now spun-off  it seems about dealed-out for now.

If you like the economy, however, buy it.

Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the historical mystery romance The Reluctant Detective Travels in Time, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this story.

Article printed from InvestorPlace Media,

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