Bloomin’ Brands has put itself up for sale, the company announced Wednesday morning during its third-quarter review. The parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Bonefish, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, said it is “exploring and evaluating strategic alternatives that have the potential to maximizing value for our shareholders, including but not limited to, a possible sale of the company.”
Bloom’ retained BofA Securities, Inc. as a financial adviser in the process.
“Over the past few years Bloomin’ Brands has made significant progress toward its long-term objectives to elevate the customer experience, capitalize on the emerging off-premises segment, expand the rapidly growing international business, and improve operating margins. These efforts have created significant market share gains and enhanced profitability,” said David Deno, chief executive officer of Bloomin’, in a statement. “However, despite this continued progress, we believe the current stock price does not reflect the value of the company. That is why the time is right to explore strategic alternatives that have the potential to maximize value for our shareholders. Our board of directors is committed to fully evaluating appropriate strategic alternatives while simultaneously supporting the company’s ongoing progress against our business plan.”
Bloomin’ said it would proceed in a “timely manner,” but has not set a timetable. There is also no guarantee the company will be sold or make any other change. Bloomin’ won’t share any further public comment on the matter until needed, it added.
The news jumped the multi-concept operator’s stock early Wednesday near double-digits.
Bloomin’ reported net income of $9.2 million in Q3, or 11 cents per share, up from $4.1 million, or 4 cents per share in the year-ago period.
Adjusted EPS was 10 cents, which matched FactSet expectations. Revenue of $967.1 million beat Wall Street’s call of $966 million and was higher than last year’s $965 million figure.
Blended same-store sales declined 0.2 percent. Outback’s comps lifted 0.2 percent, marking its 11th consecutive period of positive gains. The concept had 727 domestic locations as of June 30 (579 company run)—down one store from September 29. Q3 traffic declined 1.1 percent compared to 0.9 percent growth last year.
Carrabba’s, which also closed a restaurant and now has 226 units (205 corporate), saw its comps inch 0.1 percent versus a 0.6 percent decline in Q3 2018. Traffic rose 0.5 percent after falling 2.9 percent in the year-ago period.
Bonefish’s same-store sales dropped 2.2 percent compared to a 1.8 percent uptick in Q3 2018. Traffic fell 2.9 percent at the 197-unit brand, building a negative 5.6 percent two-year transactions stack.
Fleming’s comps increased 0.4 percent as traffic slipped 0.3 percent on top of last year’s 4.2 percent fall. Bloomin’s fine-dining brand had 69 stores at quarter’s end.
“Q3 earnings per share increased 25 percent on a comparable adjusted basis as we focus on building healthy traffic and improving profitability,” added Deno. “U.S. comp sales were flat with traffic significantly outperforming the industry. We have intentionally moderated our average check increases to further strengthen our value relative to competition across the portfolio. This pricing discipline combined with sales momentum from investments in the customer experience and off-premises is building, with October trends significantly out-pacing the industry. This strategy combined with disciplined cost management, drove operating margins higher by 60 basis points on comparable adjusted basis versus last year. We remain well positioned to finish the year strong and achieve our earnings commitments.”
On the average check note, across Outback, Carrabba’s, Bonefish, and Fleming’s, they rose 1.3 percent, fell 0.4 percent, climbed 0.7 percent, and upped 0.7 percent, respectively. That is relatively muted compared to many restaurant chains these days.
Just last year it tracked as follows: 3.7 percent, 2.3 percent, 4.5 percent, and 4.7 percent. As a company, Bloomin’ is at 0.8 percent on top of 3.4 percent in 2018.
Deno, the company’s former EVP and CFO, stepped into the CEO role in April, succeeding current chairman Liz Smith.
In early September, Jana Partners, an activist investor that held a 9 percent stake in Bloomin’ at the time, said it intended to push the company toward a sale and breakup, among other possibilities.
It was the second time in as many years the hedge fund pressed Bloomin’ to do so. Jana noted that shareholders would benefit from Bloomin’ splitting into two companies—one centered on Outback and the other a growth vehicle focused on smaller chains.
Previously, in March 2018, Jana was appeased when Bloomin’ awarded Norwegian Cruise Line executive Wendy Beck, a Jana representative, a seat on its board of directors. The company then began selling shares. But it reignited talks after building back stake in July. It spent $127.7 million to raise its Bloomin’ hold to 7.8 million shares, per a regulatory filing
In that same filing, Jana said it would discuss a possible “sale, divestitures, capital allocation, operations and board compositions,” with Bloomin’s management,
Jana is directed by Barry Rosenstein. The company is no stranger to the restaurant industry, and to subsequent major changes. The company took a $134 million stake in Jack in the Box, which sold Qdoba to Apollo Global Management for $305 million in cash. Jana also took a stake in Whole Foods Market earlier in 2017. In that case, like Bloomin’, Jana pushed Whole Foods to explore strategic alternatives. Amazon then sent a shock wave through foodservice with its $13.7 billion purchase of the supermarket behemoth.
Bloomin’ was previously in Jana’s portfolio as recently as the Q2 2018. It unloaded 7,819,899 shares when the price sat around $23, after starting an activist campaign in the second half of 2017 when it hovered around $18 and $19.
Two years ago, Barington Capital also called for a spinoff of Bloomin’s smaller restaurant chains to be separated into a new company and for Outback to be run independently.
Barrington cut its position by more than 75 percent as Jana built its stake this year.