While it’s still about a month until Darden Restaurants Inc. (DRI) releases its Q2 2015 results, the big takeaway from the earnings call is already clear. When investors and analysts tune in Dec. 16, it’ll be their first interaction since the proxy fight won by activist investor hedge fund Starboard Value.
And according to analysts, the newly Starboard-led Darden will have a disappointing doggie bag of leftovers from the company’s old management to share with investors:
- Earnings: Darden is expected to announce Q2 earnings of 27 cents per share, according to a survey of 25 analysts by Yahoo! Finance. While that’s a strong 12-cent increase year-over-year, it’s still 5 cents down from the first quarter.
- Revenue: It’s here where Darden will begin to look a little under-done. Revenues are expected to come to $1.5 billion by the end of November, according to Yahoo! Finance, a nearly a 25 percent decrease from last year. That said, this will be the Orlando, Fl.-based company’s first full quarter without Red Lobster, and the sting of that loss sure will show.
- Stock: Much like Olive Garden’s bottomless pasta bowl, Starboard is the gift that keeps on giving – to investors. The hedge fund’s promised turnaround of DRI is expected to buoy the stock, even amidst disappointing earnings. The target price is around $50.50 according to 22 analysts polled by Yahoo! Finance, which the company has recently been outperforming. And overwhelmingly, 17 out of 27 analysts surveyed by Yahoo! Finance rate the company as a hold.
— Yahoo Finance (@YahooFinance) November 11, 2014
So what’s also on the menu for the December release?
As part of Starboard’s vision for Darden, the hedge fund stipulated a “100-day” plan to overhaul the company and its biggest brand Olive Garden. Some of those changes are likely to have already been enacted, including a decrease in food procurement and waste and other reduced administrative costs.
Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy described all of these operational fixes as realistic in his Oct. 10 research note, saying that they “could drive incremental top-line revenue and margin growth.” That said, Hottovy acknowledged the impact of these changes is unlikely to be evident in the near-term.
Also on the radar are same-store sales. In September, all three company divisions – Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and the Specialty Restaurant Group (SRG) that includes brands like Seasons 52 and The Capital Grille – posted positive comps that modestly exceeded the year prior. If these remain positive, then FY15 estimates could go up.
Particularly, the health of the specialty brands is of major concern to company leadership and investors. These brands saw 6.4 percent sales growth in September, compared to 0.6 percent for Olive Garden and 3.2 percent for LongHorn.
Part of Starboard’s long-term plan for Darden is a spin-off of these less mature, high growth brands, which some analysts view favorably given Olive Garden’s very public struggles of late. Continued revenue growth for this division would help stir the pot when it comes to speculation about a split – even doing as much as sealing the Specialty Restaurant Group’s fate.