By Paul McBeth
April 16 (BusinessDesk) - Restaurant Brands New Zealand won't pay a final dividend after lifting annual earnings 3.3 percent, saying it wants to retain cash for a record capital spending programme that includes the roll-out of 60 Taco Bell stores across Australasia.
The fast-food operator reported an underlying profit of $42.2 million in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 25, up from $40.8 million a year earlier. That's just shy of the $43-45 million guidance at last year's annual meeting.
Net profit increased 0.8 percent to $35.7 million, which included $9 million of non-trading costs, including a $3.5 million impairment charge on its Carl's Jr chain, a $3.5 million charge for underpayment of holiday pay, and $1.6 million of worker compensation in Hawaii. A gain on the sale of the Starbucks Coffee chain offset those costs.
The board decided against paying a final dividend, saying the company faces substantial capital demands with a new store build programme including the Taco Bell launch in New Zealand and Australia over the next five years and a faster rollout of KFC store builds in both of those markets.
On top of that, there are significant potential acquisitions in the US and Australia, it said.
"While some of this store development and acquisition growth can be funded from increased borrowings, directors believe that it is in the best interests of the group to retain cash in order to provide funding flexibility," it said. "Directors have therefore resolved not to pay a final dividend for the FY19 year."
Over the next five years, Restaurant Brands plans to open 30 new KFC stores, 60 Taco Bell stores and refurbish 50-60 KFC stores across Australasia, build and rebuild 10-12 Taco Bells in Hawaii, buy 10-40 KFC stores in Australia, and pursue 2-3 KFC or Taco Bell acquisitions on the US mainland.
While the bulk of Restaurant Brands shareholders will have pocketed $9.45 a share in the scaled takeover bid, today's decision by the board means investors won't receive any dividends this year after directors put off paying an interim dividend due to Finaccess Capital's offer.
It paid 28 cents per share for the 2018 financial year and, while chair Ted van Arkel told shareholders at last year's annual meeting that the board will lift dividends in line with higher earnings, those returns will always be subject to capital spending plans.
The Mexican firm would prefer to use equity funding as a last resort for that capital programme.
Restaurant Brands spent $36.9 million buying intangibles, property, plant and equipment in the year, and raised $10.2 million from the sale of assets.
The company's KFC New Zealand unit lifted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation 5.9 percent to $70.4 million, maintaining strong margins despite cost pressures, while its Pizza Hut earnings dropped 38 percent to $2 million as rising ingredients and labour costs squeezed margins, and it owned fewer stores - it now owns 30, down from 36 a year ago.
Carl's Jr earnings slumped 53 percent to $900,000 on falling sales, and rising labour and ingredients costs, and Restaurant Brands booked a $3.5 million impairment charge on the value of the burger chain.
Its Australian KFC stores lifted earnings 34 percent to A$27 million, while its Hawaiian Taco Bell unit lifted earnings 2.9 percent to US$14.3 million and its Hawaiian Pizza Hut ebitda shrank 44 percent to US$1.9 million, reflecting marketing costs and higher ingredients and wages costs. lt has 44 Pizza Hut stores in Hawaii