Investors in Hilton Worldwide Holdings (HLT) have rightfully shrugged off news of Blackstone Group’s (BX) plan to cut its stake in the international hotel group.
Hilton stock has edged above its year-ago IPO levels despite an initial dip Monday on the news of the sale. You can thank last week’s robust earnings report and guidance for the fourth quarter and next year.
Meanwhile, both Hilton’s business and its stock are showing strength amid a promising lodging industry climate, so investors looking for something to hop on board might want to take a closer look at HLT.
Private equity firm Blackstone — which took Hilton private in 2007 then eventually brought HLT public again last December — plans to sell 90 to 100 million shares of Hilton stock in a secondary offering. The sale is expected to bring in between $2.27 billion and $2.61 billion.
Blackstone, which owns 66% of Hilton stock, retained all of its shares following the IPO, so it still will own nearly 550 million shares of HLT. Thus, investors worried that the sale somehow represents a vote of no confidence or that Blackstone might be bailing on Hilton stock need to stay calm.
After all, page one in private equity firms’ IPO playbook says to always get paid, usually many times, in many ways.
An Earnings Look
Hilton stock flashed a bit on its solid quarter. Third-quarter earnings of 19 cents per share was off slightly from last year’s 22 cents, mostly thanks to higher expenses and interest. RevPAR, or revenue per available room — a key metric in the lodging industry — was up 8.8% year over year, while adjusted EBITDA rose 13%.
The outlook for HLT for the rest of this year and 2015 was encouraging, too, as the company sees a RevPAR increase of 6% to 7% for full-year 2014, with a similar increase of 5% to 7% seen in 2015. Diluted EPS for the full year 2014 should come in at 69 cents to 71 cents, compared to 53 cents for 2013.
The takeaway on all this is markedly positive. The spending is manageable as Hilton continues to add rooms — the lifeblood of the lodging trade — while reducing debt. HLT gave guidance that it will reduce debt by $900 million to $1 billion in 2014.
With the numbers lining up well for HLT, the fundamentals underpin a bright near-term future for Hilton stock, though not everyone in the market sees it that way.
Potential Headwinds for Hilton Stock
There are legitimate worries about the global economy, and with Hilton operating in 93 countries worldwide, it vividly highlights the global part of its name.
HLT is well positioned in the industry, though, as it has a strong presence in North America and is diversified around the world. Those investors who worry, say, about whether travelers will fill the rooms in Russia or even the new DoubleTree in China, should realize that the bulk of its business is spread elsewhere.
Also, the travel and leisure business, including airlines and cruise ships, is doing well and that should continue. Business travel is still improving, albeit slowly, and the U.S. economy can continue to drive revenue to offset sluggishness in Europe should that become a greater problem.
Neither disappointing foreign exchange rates nor potential room vacancies in the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya are going to be enough to sink Hilton stock.
Again, it’s important to keep the Blackstone sale in perspective, as well as the fears about the U.S. and global economies. But despite what doomsayers say, neither are headed over a cliff.
Meanwhile, HLT is strongly positioned with its world-class brand to overcome some of these potential headwinds as it continues to invest wisely in building up its business. With the travel industry doing well, that’s also a confirmation of the lodging business.
So should investors pile in while HLT stock is flirting with all-time highs?
For value investors, while the business looks good, Hilton stock trades at a price-to-earnings ratio of 45, which is far more richly valued than its competitors. Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) sells at 34 times earnings, while Marriott’s (MAR) P/E is 32, with Choice Hotels International (CHH) trading in the mid-20s range, the industry average. Thus, value investors might want to see if the market will discount HLT before jumping in.
If you’re an aggressive growth investor, nothing should stop you. Hilton stock is a growth story that’s far from over.
As of this writing, Greg Sushinsky did not hold any positions in the aforementioned securities.