Marriott Earnings Rise but Outlook Disappoints

Marriott International Inc. (MAR), the nation's largest hotel chain, said Tuesday that a continued rebound in the travel industry drove up fourth quarter earnings, but the company's 2005 outlook came up short of Wall Street expectations.

Its shares fell $1.50, or 2.3 percent, to $65 on the New York Stock Exchange (search), down from a recent 52-week high of $67.

Marriott said it earned $189 million, or 79 cents per share in the 16 weeks ending Dec. 31. That was 12 percent higher than the 2003 fourth quarter earnings of $169 million, or 69 cents per share. The 2003 figure included a $36 million insurance payment for the loss of a World Trade Center (search) hotel on Sept. 11, 2001.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call predicted Marriott would earn 75 cents per share in the quarter. The results were also higher than the company's previous guidance of between 72 cents and 75 cents per share for the quarter.

Fourth quarter revenue stood at $3.1 billion, up from $2.9 billion a year earlier. Higher income from fees the company charges franchisees and a 58 percent increase from Marriott's synthetic fuel tax shelter helped drive up overall revenue.

For all of 2004, Marriott reported earnings of $596 million, or $2.48 per share, up from the $502 million, or $2.05 per share, for 2003. The company had $10 billion in revenue compared to $9 billion in 2003.

Revenue per available room, an industry measure known as revpar, increased 9.6 percent last year at the company's more than 2,100 hotels worldwide.

"Just as our industry is enjoying a new revitalization, so is our company," said company CEO J.W. Marriott Jr.

For 2005, the company predicts earnings of between $2.73 and $2.74 per share, not including costs from stock options and a new program to replace bedding on 628,000 beds. For the first quarter of this year, Marriott expects earnings of between 52 cents and 54 cents per share.

That is lower than Wall Street expectations. Analysts predict Marriott will make $2.84 per share in 2005 and 59 cents per share in the first quarter.