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2021 Financial ranking of hotel groups: post-COVID, the revolution

A revolution is both a major change that disrupts the established order and a complete reversal that brings us back to the starting point: these two dynamics are exactly what the hospitality sector has gone through in recent months. The COVID-19 crisis has profoundly shaken up the finances and economic hierarchy of hotel groups, confirming in particular the rise of certain Chinese players. However, Western champions have almost managed to get back to their pre-covid valuation levels, and they are still ahead of the game in terms of financial strength. They have implemented different strategies to raise cash, and some have solid reserves preparing them for the future, where they will have to deal with formidable new challengers. La crise de la COVID-19 a profondément bouleversé les finances et la hiérarchie économique des groupes hôteliers, entérinant notamment la montée en puissance de certains acteurs chinois, et changeant radicalement le classement et les rapports de force entre acteurs à l’échelle mondiale. Mais les occidentaux ont aussi réussi le tour de force de retrouver des valorisations proches de l’avant-crise, et conservent une petite longueur d’avance par leur robustesse financière. Ils ont mis en œuvre des stratégies innovantes pour lever du cash, et certains ont de solides réserves pour préparer l’avenir, pour lequel il faudra tout de même composer avec de nouveaux acteurs redoutables.

Mid-2021 financial rankings of hotel operators: US groups remain in the lead, Chinese improving, Europeans lagging behind.

Enterprise value of major hotel groups in 2021 and its development from 2020

Figure 1

Methodology: "Enterprise Value" is a financial measure of the total value of a company, taking into account the impact of debt and cash on a company's market capitalisation to reflect the full cost of acquiring the company. 
Sources: Yahoo! Finance, Bloomberg, SinaFinance, Gurufocus, Financial Times. Figures as at 1 January 2020 and 1 January 2021.

The American giant Marriott retains its title of global hospitality champion, as its room portfolio (1.4 million worldwide), profitability ($1.1 billion adjusted EBITDA in 2020), and enterprise value (over $53 billion as at 1/1/2021) stand well above the pack. However, while Marriott unquestionably dominates this ranking, the group has seen its financial valuation level decline between January 2020 and June 2021 (-9%), a fact attributable to the financial storm triggered by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2nd financial champion of the hotel industry, Hilton, is also American. Its enterprise value, now approaching $45 billion (as of June 2021), is also justified by a supply of more than one million rooms as of 2021. It is almost twice as high as the number three's supply.

But behind these two uncontested leaders, the financial hierarchy is changing fast. While most Western hotel groups have at best kept and more often slightly fell in value, Chinese operators such as Huazhu and Jin Jiang have seen their valuation surge in 2020 and H1 2021, even though they had not particularly suffered in 2019 from the earlier onset of the COVID epidemic on the Chinese market.

As a result, in the ranking of hotel groups by financial value, Huazhu has risen to the third place, ahead of IHG and Accor. Indeed, while Accor lost a quarter of its enterprise value over the year 2020, Huazhu's market capitalization increased by more than half. This rise is partly due to the acquisition of Deutsche Hospitality by Huazhu and a considerable increase in the group's supply (+22% compared to the previous year / +100K rooms) and various financial factors detailed hereafter. In the same vein, Jin Jiang rose to 5th place, overtaking the US-based Hyatt, Wyndham and Choice in 2020, and the French Accor in the first half of 2021. As of June, its enterprise value is approaching $13billion.

What happened during the COVID crisis ?

2020 and 2021 have been a rollercoaster to the hotel champions, which had to cope with one of the biggest challenges they ever faced.

The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a worldwide drop in hotel performance to historic lows. Meanwhile, the first quarter of 2020 brought a sharp drop in stock market and valuation levels for hotel groups. Their financial targets and analysts' expectations had to be revised sharply downwards as lockdowns, travel bans and hotel closures were put in place to limit the spread of the virus.

However, while hotel performance was strongly affected throughout the year, stock markets in general and hotel group shares, in particular, recovered over the course of 2020, making it possible to cut losses. However, the timing and speed of this recovery seems to depend on their domestic market.

While the fall at the beginning of 2020 was more or less common to all hotel groups, the second half of the year marked a gradual recovery of the Chinese operators who then regained an advantage over their Western counterparts. Jin Jiang took the lead with a market capitalization that more than doubled (+127% from January 2020 marks), followed by Huazhu (+58%) and BTH Hotels (+31%). This early recovery can be explained by the timing of the health crisis and the faster recovery of travel in China, especially since the country remains moderately exposed to demand from international customers. This positive momentum continued well into 2021, with Green Tree in turn initiating a bullish trend, while Jin Jiang extended its gains.

On the other side of the Atlantic, after experiencing a shock at the beginning of the pandemic, the Americans generallt recovered in the end of 2020. Among them, Wyndham, Choice and Hilton have fully erased their losses and have even progressed in terms of market value over the past 18 months. However, in Q2 2021 their momentum began to wane.

In Europe, however, the year was rather nightmarish from start to finish. While IHG was able to recover at the end of the year, Accor remained low, leading the French giant to be removed from the CAC40 index in September 2020. And in 2021, the significant rebound of its value in Q1 was erased in Q2.

Overall, this year has been marked by the rise of Chinese groups, the resilience of American groups, and the relative loss of economic weight of European players. Will they manage to catch up in the second half of 2021?

Change in market capitalization of leading hotel groups in 2020 (compared to January 1, 2020)

Figure 2

Source: Yahoo!Finance, Bloomberg, SinaFinance, Financial Times. For Oyo, value induced by the latest fundraising.

Consequence: staff reductions to control costs

In this particular market context, groups have unavoidably been forced to review their costs, to fight against a decline in their profitability, and to reduce the speed at which they burned their cash.

The crisis has therefore prompted hotel operators to make efforts to reduce the workforce at group level, i.e. at headquarters and in the hotels they own (very few today) or manage.

Change in the number of employees in 2020 (as of December 31, 2020, in % from previous year)

figure 3

Sources: annual reports, YahooFinance, SinaFinance - 04/2021

Among U.S. and European operators, the decline in headcount ranged from 10% to 37% depending on the group. As most of them have continued to expand their portfolio, this reduction is slightly more visible in terms of employees per room.

Overall, the staff-related savings achieved were significant for all groups. They were particularly sizeable at Marriott, Wyndham and Hyatt, whereas Jin Jiang and IHG decided to limit the headcount cuts at headquarters. Accor, Hilton & Choice Hotels have adopted a balanced strategy between these two approaches.

"Cash is king": who holds it?

Given the context, the performance and strength of groups are also measured by their cash flows, cash available and “cash burn”, a new financial KPI that has made its unpleasant appearance in the hotel sector.

If the expression "cash is king" is true, some groups are ready for the future. This is the case for two groups in particular: Hilton and Accor, which stand out by hoarding particularly high levels of cash reserves.

In the case of Hilton, this is due to positive cash flows from financing activities. Indeed, in response to the health crisis, the group decided to extend the maturities and reduce the interest rates of its outstanding debt, thus strengthening its liquidity position.

For its part, Accor shows encouraging levels of available cash, generated in a different way: by divestment flows, with in particular the sale of real estate assets of the Polish group Orbis for 1.067 billion euros, followed by those of Mövenpick in March 2020. The French group retained this strategy in the beginning of 2021 as it sold shares in the Chinese company Huazhu, which brought to the group a solid net capital gain.

Behind them but at a good distance, IHG also posted a good level of cash at the end of 2020, due to the cash inflow from bond and commercial paper issuances under the Covid Corporate Financing Facility, a mechanism set up by the Bank of England to help companies in the context of the health crisis.

Hyatt, as well as Wyndham and Choice Hotels, to a lesser extent, have also pursued this strategy of raising cash through financing deals. As pure franchisors, Wyndham and Choice currently have a much more limited cash position, but unlike some operators such as Accor or Hyatt, they have maintained positive cash flows from operations.

Finally, Huazhu and Marriott stand out for their particular strategies: the former drew on its reserves to close the Deutsche Hospitality buyout, and the latter maintained part of its initial dividend and share buyback program (in Q1 2020). It did so while recognizing as operating revenue $1.1 billion previously recorded as deferred from its Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, and drawing $920 million in cash from agreements with the co-issuers of the credit cards associated with this loyalty program.

Cash-flow statements of leading hotel groups: 2020 dynamics and cash available (in $)

Figure 4

Sources: Group's annual reports, Yahoo!Finance, SinaFinance - 04/2021

Value is relative

In terms of performance and profitability, the ranking must also be put into perspective. Of course, the Covid-19 epidemic has caused an economic upheaval. As a result, 2019 EBITDA levels are more representative of the groups' hierarchy than those of 2020, which are affected by the players' business models (in particular the presence of owned, leased or managed hotels versus franchises) and by their different geographical exposures.

In terms of EBITDA per rooms operated, Hyatt leads the ranking, ahead of Marriott and Hilton. Accor, IHG and Huazhu are also well placed.

Ajusted EBITDA* per room of leading hotel groups, for FY2019 and FY2020

Figure 5

Earnings Before Interest Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization. Adjusted EBITDA may differ from EBITDA due to the impact of several factors, including nonrecurring items items (gain on asset disposition, write-offs, restructuring costs, deferred fees...), stock-based management compensation. Annual figures for the year ended December 31, 2020.
Sources: Yahoo! Finance, group's annual reports / SEC filings, SinaFinance, Zonebourse, Gurufinance. 

Entreprise value per room in 2020 & 2021

Figure 6

* Based on groups' chain hotel room supply in operation as of January 1, 2021 

Sources: MKG Consulting Database, group's annual reports / SEC filings, Yahoo!Finance, SinaFinance

In terms of financial valuation per room operated, four major players dominate the market with enterprise values standing between $35,000 and $45,000 per room: Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott and Huazhu.

Whereas the American operators lost value in recent months, Huazhu has made a step forward thanks to its surge in the stock market. It should be noted that the group, although Chinese, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, unlike Jin Jiang, for example, number two in the world and much larger than its rival in terms of rooms but listed in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Finally, Oyo is not listed, but it raised funds in early 2021 (from Hindustan Ventures), valuing it at $9 billion. Like the other players in the sector, the group has therefore limited its decline in terms of post-pandemic valuation. However, in recent years it had achieved exponential growth at the cost of heavy financial losses: in 2020, it had to slow down the pace of its cash burn, and saw its supply shrink sharply.

As of mid-2021, enterprise values per room are therefore on the right track relative to 2020, and some operators have even managed to exceed pre-crisis levels.

Value captured elsewhere? Hotel groups vs. OTAs & digital players

However, let’s stake a step back and look at the broader picture: where does the value lie in the hospitality market? OTAs and digital players had already proved their weight in terms of valuation in recent years, and their stock market value bounced back quickly: in early 2021, Booking, for example, got back to the symbolic threshold of $100 billion valuation.

And the year 2020 was also marked by a major event: on December 10, 2020, Airbnb went public through an IPO. Its rise in early 2021 enabled it to post a $80 billion valuation as of mid-2021. The result is that today, the major OTAs and peer-to-peer platforms total more than $250 billion, compared to just over $200 billion for the hotel champions. If the stock markets have already erased the losses of 2020, the hotel champions still have a lot on their plate: to reactivate their operations, to restore their income statements and their post-COVID finances, and also to prepare for the future and get closer to these new travel champions.

Entreprise value of Top hotel groups and the 6 leading listed digital players (OTAs & marketplaces) as of June 2021

figure 8

Sources: Yahoo!Finance, Bloomberg, SinaFinance, Gurufocus, Financial Times. Figures as June, 2021

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