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Hearty Future for Dine Brands Despite Decline

Shares of Dine Brands Global Inc. hit an all-time high of $92.40 on Sept. 6 reflecting investor optimism over improved sales estimates. But since then, the company’s stock price has fallen back to earth, dropping nearly 16 percent to $78.04 on Oct. 10. In a Sept. 10 note to investors, Raymond James analyst Brian Vaccaro downgraded the Glendale-based parent company of IHOP and Applebee’s restaurant chains from “Strong Buy 1” to “Outperform.” Still, Vaccaro remains bullish that same store year-over-year sales at Dine Brands restaurants and the casual dining industry at large can continue to grow. “DIN shares have surged nearly 30 percent (from Aug. 10 to Sept. 10) which seems to reflect 1) growing optimism that third-quarter Applebee’s comp estimates could prove conservative (Raymond James estimate of 5 percent growth), 2) improved industry comp trends in August that has driven broader group outperformance. … we 1) remain optimistic that Applebee’s can sustain positive comps in fourth-quarter 2018 despite lapping more difficult year-over-year comparisons and 2) believe the stock’s discount valuation can continue to normalize versus highly franchised peers.” In the note, Vaccaro raised Dine Brands’ price target to $108. Last quarter, the company reported that Applebee’s domestic same-store sales increased 5.7 percent, while IHOP domestic same-store sales increased by 0.7 percent. Dine Brands reported better-than-expected adjusted second quarter earnings of $18.3 million, or $1.03 a share. Looking forward, however, Vaccaro said the company could face challenges in improving on its year-over-year fourth quarter sales. “We’d also note that monthly comps could be volatile in the fourth quarter as we believe the fourth quarter 2017 comp gain of +1.3 percent reflected a particularly strong October (launched Dollarita) followed by easier comparisons in November and December,” he wrote. The casual dining industry, which includes restaurant chains such as TGI Fridays and Calabasas-based Cheesecake Factory Inc., has been hit hard in recent years as many consumers have turned to counter service restaurants such as Panera Bread and Chipotle. In an effort to return to growth, Dine Brands changed its name from Dine Equity in February and announced a comprehensive plan to invest in advertising, store remodels, new technology and data analysis to better understand customers. While the strategy appears to have proven effective, the recent downturn in Dine Brands’ share price could reflect investor sentiment that the company’s sales growth may have peaked. Another factor could be Dine Brands’ ongoing legal dispute with one of its largest Applebee’s franchisors, RMH Franchise Holdings Inc. After RMH filed for bankruptcy protection in May, Dine Brands sued to prevent the company from liquidating any of its 146 locations. In a blow to Dine Brands’ case, a Delaware bankruptcy court last month ruled that RMH can continue to operate or sell off its restaurants as it undergoes bankruptcy proceedings.

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