InterContinental Hotels Group share price climbs on $1.5bn special dividend

Catherine Neilan
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nterContinental Hotels' share price jumped 4.7 per cent this morning as the group revealed plans for a $1.5bn (£1.1bn) special dividend.

The figures

Group revenues for the year to 31 December dropped three per cent to $1.8bn, slightly lower than the $1.83bn that was expected, but fee revenue was up seven per cent to $1.35bn.

Operating profit climbed four per cent to $680m, while net debt was cut 65 per cent to $529m.

The total dividend per share rose 10 per cent to 85 cents.

Why it's interesting

IHG has now sold the last of its major owned hotels, becoming almost a solely hotel management and franchising company, running brands from the top end of the market to budget names such as Holiday Inn Express.

Although the hotel group has seen "significant declines" in Hong Kong and Macau, China is still growing, with revenues up 2.9 per cent on the mainland. But investors will be watching to see what affect, if any, the Chinese slowdown will have over time.

Europe traded "robustly" while the Americas were particularly strong with double-digit growth. However, translating that to the bottom line was affected by a strong dollar, which knocked off $25m from its total profit.

The business is continuing to expand globally, but one of the key areas of interest is IHG's plans to go digital.

It plans to launch the industry's first cloud-based guest reservation system in 2017, having already launched "Spire Elite", which is "a new top tier of membership, and enhanced personalised member marketing campaigns", which has driven registrations up 35 per cent year-on-year.

What IHG said

Chief executive Richard Solomons said: "Our strong momentum in 2015 was driven by a clear strategy and disciplined execution. We delivered our highest room openings since 2009, our best signings since 2008, 11 per cent underlying profit growth and 19 per cent underlying EPS growth.

"Our high quality, fee based, business continues to generate significant operating cash flows following the completion of our major asset disposal programme. Reflecting this and our on-going focus on delivering shareholder value, we today announce a $1.5bn special dividend, which will take total funds returned since 2003 to $12bn."

He added: "Looking into the medium term, despite economic and political uncertainty in some markets, the prospects for the hotel industry remain good and the strength of our business model gives us the confidence to propose a 10 per cent increase in total dividend for the year."

What analysts said

Steve Clayton, head of equity research at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "Over the last decade or so, IHG has raised around $8bn from selling hotels that it owned, in order to act as manager instead. These funds have been returned to investors, with the proposed $1.5bn special dividend set to take the total toward $10bn.

"The market had viewed IHG as a potential predator, given the cash in its pockets; paying this back to investors should see the focus return to IHG’s organic potential, which looks strong.

"Uncertainty over a potential Chinese slowdown could keep the stock price moving around a bit more than usual, given that IHG has a big pipeline of new hotels set to come to market across China. But over the longer term, IHG’s exposure to the US and China leaves it well positioned.

"The shares currently trade on around 19x forward earnings, which is around a 15 per cent discount to their longer run average valuation.”