Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc (DFRG), Ruth’s Hospitality Group, Inc. (RUTH), Darden Restaurants, Inc. (DRI): Why I’m Changing My Outlook on This Company

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When Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc (NASDAQ:DFRG) went public last year, I wasn’t jumping on the wagon. Shares came at a premium price — and still do 13 months later; the company has a P/E ratio of 35, compared to the industry average of 22. Moreover, shares are up over 50% since the IPO. Yet now, even after this run-up, I’m changing my stance on Del Frisco’s. Allow me to share why.

But first, my bear argument

Rather than taking in the big picture, my entire argument hung on two temporary factors: unfavorable beef prices and a disruptive Hurricane Sandy.

Beef prices skyrocketed, up to 16% for prime cuts, in 2012 due to the megadrought that gripped America’s Midwest. I believed this would crimp profits. But despite the challenge, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc (NASDAQ:DFRG)’s management was able to decrease costs as a percentage of sales.

It also seemed that Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc (NASDAQ:DFRG) was in for a temporary hit as Hurricane Sandy ripped through New York. In 2011, the company derived 18% of all revenue from New York. When the storm shut the city down, I wondered how long it would be before life got back to normal — normal enough to go out to an upscale steak restaurant. Management acknowledged that its revenue likely took a $1.1 million hit, yet comp-sales were still able to grow 4%, exceeding expectations.

Both of these factors were temporary and didn’t account for the big picture. Even so, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc (NASDAQ:DFRG) thrived where it could have temporarily stalled.

The bigger picture

When you zoom out to account for the bigger picture, you see a little company achieving big results.

DFRG Revenue TTM Chart

DFRG Revenue TTM data by YCharts

Last quarter, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc (NASDAQ:DFRG)’s revenue increased 19% and net income soared 22%. This far outpaced competitor Ruth’s Hospitality Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:RUTH). Ruth’s fundamentals are improving. Net income was up 18%, although revenue was only up 5%. Some of this improvement was due to beef prices. While higher, they are not as high as anticipated, and menu-price increases delivered higher earnings. Unfortunately, Ruth’s Hospitality Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:RUTH)’s management foresees beef prices increasing in the second half of 2013 and absorbing some of this net income success.

Restaurant growth

Though only opening a few restaurants a year, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc (NASDAQ:DFRG) is outpacing several competitors in the steak arena.

Restaurant New Units 2012 Percentage Growth
Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (NASDAQ:DFRG) 4 13%
Outback Steakhouse (Bloomin’ Brands) 8 1%
Fleming’s (Bloomin’ Brands) 1 2%
Longhorn Steakhouse (Darden) 32 9%
The Capital Grille (Darden) 2 5%

New-unit growth is fairly slow at Bloomin’ Brands Inc (NASDAQ:BLMN). Instead, the company is focusing on growing comp sales through remodels. So far this year, 30 Outbacks have been remodeled, leaving 80 more to be remodeled before year end. Management sees the remodel process as one of the main reasons for Outback’s 2.8% comp-sales growth. For Bloomin’, only Fleming’s 3.8% comp-sales growth was better.

Outback is also opening for lunch. This has only been initiated in 25% of Outback restaurants, leaving plenty of room to further grow earnings. Lunch doesn’t carry the same profit margin as dinner for the company, so only expect a minor increase to Bloomin’ Brands Inc (NASDAQ:BLMN)’s bottom line.

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