Marriott Finishes a Terrific Year

It's been more than a year since Marriott International (NASDAQ: MAR) merged with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, but already, the impact of the combination has been felt across the industry. Marriott's competitive position within the hotel sector is stronger than ever, and the company's global presence gives it a competitive advantage that few of its peers have been able to match.

Coming into Wednesday's fourth-quarter financial report, Marriott investors wanted to see evidence that the hotel giant was using its competitive leverage to extract further gains from the industry. Marriott's results were solid, and company officials are looking forward to a strong 2018. Let's take a closer look at Marriott and what its results say about its outlook for the coming year.

Marriott gets the job done

Marriott's fourth-quarter results showed ongoing progress in its mission to integrate Starwood and boost total growth. Total revenue rose 8% to $5.88 billion, which was far better than the 3% growth rate that most of those following the stock were expecting to see. GAAP net income sank because of one-time factors, but adjusted net income of $415 million was higher by 24% from year-ago levels, and adjusted earnings of $1.12 per share topped the consensus forecast among investors of $1 per share.

Tax reform did have a fleeting impact on Marriott's financials. The company faced a $745 million transition tax on accumulated foreign earnings, which it will have to pay over the next eight years. However, offsetting tax benefits of $159 million came from revaluing net deferred tax liabilities at the new lower corporate tax rates.

Fundamentally, Marriott looked solid. Worldwide, comparable systemwide revenue per available room rose 4.6%, outpacing the comparable RevPAR gains in North America of 3.9%. Base management and franchise fees were up 11% from the year-ago quarter, while incentive management fees picked up 14%, with Marriott pointing to particular strength in North America and the Asia-Pacific region. Expenses remained under control, lifting adjusted pre-tax operating income by 7% from year-earlier levels.

Marriott grew its network, adding 132 new properties and about 21,000 rooms to its worldwide portfolio. As of the end of 2017, Marriott had more than 6,500 properties, and those assets contained almost 1.26 million rooms. Marriott's pipeline is still impressive, with more than 2,700 properties and 460,000 rooms in various stages of development.

CEO Arne Sorenson had no doubts in his views on Marriott's progress. "2017 was a terrific year," Sorenson said, noting that "we made great progress on the integration of Starwood, capturing significant property and corporate overhead cost synergies while also increasing our worldwide RevPAR index." The CEO also pointed to joint ventures with Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and strategic credit card agreements to bring in more revenue and reward its loyal customer base.

Can Marriott keep up the pace in 2018?

Marriott has plenty of optimism about its immediate future. Among the moves that the company is making is to offer a one-time contribution to retirement savings plans, offering a $5 to $1 match of up to $1,000 from the hotel company. Reduced tax rates should support the one-time move.

Marriott also gave further guidance. Full-year 2018 projections are relatively consistent with what the company said previously, with the hotel chain expecting a 7% rise in room counts before accounting for roughly 1% to 1.5% of rooms to be sold or otherwise eliminated. Global RevPAR should rise 1% to 3%, with a slight upward revision in growth to a 1% to 2% range in North America and 3% to 5% internationally. Adjusted earnings will be between $5.22 and $5.45 per share after taking into account new accounting standards for revenue.

For the first quarter, comparable systemwide RevPAR in North America should come in flat to up 2%, with international growth of 3% to 5% lifting worldwide comps to a range of 1% to 3%. The move should come despite some unfavorable comparisons, including the change in when Easter falls this year compared to last.

Marriott investors weren't entirely happy with the report and guidance, and the stock fell 4% in after-hours trading following the announcement. Nevertheless, Marriott has done a good job of integrating the Starwood acquisition, and the future still looks bright for the hotel giant in 2018 and beyond.

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Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Marriott International. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.