I've been spending a lot of time on the three major publicly traded timeshare companies (HGV, WYND, VAC. Disclsoure: Long HGV) recently. At its core, the time share business is pretty simple (you lure a bunch of tourists in with the promise of a cheap vacation, you put them into a high pressure sales situation, and ~15% of them will buy a "lifetime vacation package" for ~$20k; I am simplifying / slightly mocking them, but only slightly), but as an investor the timeshare companies are actually difficult to look at: their accounting is complex (mainly due to the financing from their timeshare receivables), valuation is a bit difficult because each of them have slightly different revenue streams, their inventory position / investments can depress their cash flow but present different growth opportunities, and the strength of the "parent brands" (i.e. Hilton for HGV) probably needs to be considered as well. So I figured I'd throw up some thoughts on the time share companies, and if anyone has done any work on them and has different views or anything to add on them I'd love to see / hear them.
Normally when I write something up I try to review lots of industry basics / background, but I was a bit all over the place in writing this post so instead I'm just going to dive right into the things I wanted to hit. I'll note the timeshare companies are very generous in their investor communication, so if you're not familiar with them and want to get up to speed I would suggest reading HGV's 10-K and the transcript from their December 2018 investor day (flip through their investor day slides too). That should give you a very good overview of the industry. Yes, it'll be a HGV biased overview, but it's a great launching point.
Anyway, why am I interested in the timeshare industry? There are a lot of reasons, but the main reason is simple: the timeshare companies are cheap.
I think the best way to see how cheap the timeshare companies are is to look at their forward guidance. I've always thought that all forward guidance should be taken with a grain or three of salt, but for our purposes it's a nice jumping off point because it strips out some noise that all of the timeshare companies have in their financials currently (merger related noise for VAC, spin related noise for WYND, inventory investment noise for HGV, and accounting change noise for all of them). All three of the timeshare companies have given 2021 guidance in one form or another (VAC effectively gave it on p. 99 of their ILG merger proxy, HGV gave it at their December 2018 investor day, WYND in their November 2018 investor pres). They don't all provide the same info in the same format (for example, WYND doesn't given an EPS estimate), so it's not a perfect apples to apples comparison across companies, but it's close enough. In the table below I've tried to standardize the info across companies for a valuation comparison:
So, on those forecasts, all of the timeshare companies are pretty cheap. In addition, the timeshare companies throw off pretty decent cash flow, and most of them either have a history of repurchasing shares or have promised to repurchase shares in the near future; if they do so at these valuation levels, the time share companies would look even cheaper on their out year earnings.
Of course, one of the worries with a forward earnings forecast is that the company might be baking in some super high / unrealistic growth assumptions ("we trade at 10x 2022 earnings if you assume we grow 75% annually for the next three years!"). That's not the case here: the timeshare companies are rather cheap even on today's numbers (I really only used the forward numbers to remove the near term noise); most of them are trading at ~10x near term earnings per share (Wynd is forecasting ~$4.80/share in EPS for 2018, so at <$45 it's <10x; HGV is forecasting ~$3/share, so at today's price it's right at 10x). Again, those near term numbers do have some noise in them, but my bottom line is that whether you're looking to out years or on today's numbers, these companies are cheap.
Ok, so the timeshares are cheap. But why are they so cheap?
I suspect a good piece of their cheapness stems from how most investors view these companies: as highly cyclical consumer discretionary businesses.
On some level, that viewpoint makes a lot of sense. A timeshare is both very expensive and a very discretionary consumer purchase. In a recession, the first thing to get dropped from budgets is often vacations, and vacations are a huge source of the "tours" that timeshares companies rely on to sell new consumers. Even if vacation rates don't fall in a recession, it seems reasonable to think that timeshare sales will take a hit as consumer's wallets are pinched / consumers feel a bit less confident and less willing to shell out thousands of dollars on vacations. The industry was absolutely rocked during the Financial Crisis; the slide below (from HGV's investor day) shows industry wide sales getting cut almost in half from 2006 to ~2009, and they still haven't fully recovered.
But it's not just new timeshare sales that would suffer in a (hypothetical) recession. Building a new timeshare property is expensive (in effect, you're building a nice hotel), so in a financial crisis a timeshare company could get hit with the double whammy of sales / profits declining while getting stuffed with unsold timeshare inventory / newbuild timeshares that they're investing cash into. So sales are falling while cash is going out the door; never a good combo. And, actually, given many of the timeshares are financed with consumer loans, it wouldn't be "just" a double whammy of falling sales and needing to put out cash for inventory they can't sell; it very well could be a triple whammy where a financial crisis also causes consumer defaults on their loans to rise, so the timeshare companies are sending cash out the door for new-builds while sales are stalling out and consumers are defaulting on their loans en masse, causing huge credit write offs. Put those three together and it's easy to think that every timeshare company will go bust or at least be on life support as soon as a recession strikes.
Still, I'm not sure that "timeshares are super cyclical and will be rocked in a recession view" is correct.
Let's start by looking at timeshare companies' earnings. The worry is that a recession will see new timeshare sales plunge, so profits will plunge as well. However, a large piece of timeshare companies' earnings actually comes from "highly predictable" earnings these days, so I think earnings would be more resilient than the market seems to be forecasting. The slide below is from HGV's investor day and suggests ~70% of their forward EBITDA estimates are from highly predictable earnings.
HGV's argument (and similar logic would apply to all timeshare companies, not just HGV) is that ~70% of their earnings comes from the "existing owner" bucket and the "recurring revenue" bucket; each of those are highly predictable / borderline contracted, and that highly predictable nature makes the business much less recession sensitive than you might expect at first.
I think there's some logic here. If you read the footnotes, the EBITDA from recurring revenue streams consists of financing and resort management fees. The resort management fees are annual fees charged to timeshare owners; if they don't pay those fees, they'll lose their timeshare. These fees run at ~$1500/year/member (~$500 goes to HGV; the other $1k are annual maintenance fees that HGV equity holders don't get access to- they're required to be put back into the properties to keep them spruced up); given a timeshare package costs ~$20k upfront and gets you access to ~a week of vacation at a luxury-hotel esque property (which would probably cost at least twice as much as the annual fee if you tried to buy on the open market), I doubt owners are going to be defaulting on that annual resort fee unless they are in a really tight spot, so it probably does make sense to treat this stream as contractually locked in. On the financing fees, they are technically locked in but if you're really worried about a recession you're worried about consumers defaulting en masse on these loans. Certainly a worry, though I take some comfort in the credit quality of the book (HGV's average FICO score is 748 as of Q3'18, and the other players are in the same ballpark). Could you see a crazy default wave? Sure, but given the down payment, the high credit scores, and that the annual cost of the timeshare is lower than going on vacation (ignoring the sunk cost of the upfront payment), I think it's unlikely.
The EBITDA from existing owner bucket consists mainly of up selling existing owners to larger packages ("ooohhhh, your current package only gets you 3 days in Hawaii every year. Why not spend $5k and upgrade to a package that gets you 5 days in Hawaii every year?"). HGV's argument is they have (literally) decades of data that shows these owner upgrades are highly predictable; in fact, their data shows that the rate of owner upgrade is increasing over time.
If you've spent any time looking at SaaS companies, those graphs probably look pretty familiar. SaaS companies use those cohort analysis charts all the time, and equity analysts use them to model future growth.
There are plenty of reasons that the SaaS cohort analysis isn't comparable to HGV's. In particular, the SaaS companies cohort analysis is on very sticky, recurring revenue, while HGV's cohort analysis represents upgrade spending (which is a one-time payment, though it does carry an increase in annual club fees too). So I'm not arguing that HGV deserves to trade at 10x revenue (where a typical SaaS company with decent organic growth and a cohort analysis that looked like HGV's would probably trade), but I am suggesting that HGV's cohort analysis suggests the company's growth / recurring revenue / forecasts are much more predictable than the market is giving them credit for at <10x EPS.
I think the other big worry about timeshare companies is they'll get stuffed with a ton of growth capex when a downturn hits. HGV, for example, is making a big investment into opening new properties / timeshare inventory over the next few years, and their investor presentations frequently include the chart below where they say, "Hey, we need to invest in inventory... we haven't done it since a big investment all the way back in 2007!".
Personally, I wouldn't ever go out to investors and boast, "hey, the last time we made a big capex investment was right before the global financial crisis, and we think the time is right to do it again!", but that's just me.
Anyway, the inventory investment is a concern, but I don't think it's a huge one. The industry has a reputation of making huge capex investments for growth (similar to the hotel lodging space), but these days most investment is done through capital efficient development deals, which requires much lower upfront cash investment from the timeshare company because their partner bears a lot of the development cost. Yes, there's still some risk here, but I think it's dramatically lower than most people think about when they think about new-build timeshares / hotels.
Ok, that was a lot of charts. To sum up the overall thesis for the timeshare companies: they are cheap, and they are likely much less cyclical than the market appears to give them credit for. In general, at these prices, I'm bullish on the timeshare companies.
So why buy HGV over WYND or VAC? There are a variety of reasons, but I'll just bullet them here
Odds and ends
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while I don't disagree with you completely, the resale market for timeshares shows they have little value. For example this one shows Hilton Grand Vacations Club at Elara. Sorted by price they start at $100, then $500, then $1,500. Imagine if this was a totally different business and we took a clients $20,000 check but then they changed their mind and went to re-sell it, it would only fetch $500, I don't think they would be happy. Businesses like this cap the price multiple and pool of who can acquire them. https://www.timesharesonly.com/usa/nv/elara-hilton-grand-vacations-hotel-center-strip
The only reason that sales collapsed in 2009 is that the industry lost the ability to offer consumer financing. Asset backed securities were the most toxic things on the planet and unlike the auto industry timeshare lenders were not backed by the government. Imagine trying to sell cars with no financing. Sales are likely stronger than ever, 2008 numbers included fractional sales, that sector of the industry did not come back and likely never will. If you comp pure timeshare sales to pure timeshare sales the numbers are stronger than ever. VAC has a lot of upside by merging the former ILG timeshare businesses into Marriott Vacation Club the Club offering now becomes very compelling.
Interesting points here, thanks
Existing owners defaulting on their HOA fees greatly increased in 2009 and 2010. Something more than a lack of financing new purchases was going on.
I'm curious as to why you aren't particularly interested in the exchange business. Is it radically different from re-selling tickets on ticketmaster/stubhub? I'd figure that if those two player have significant timeshare inventory they'd benefit from network effects.
I agree with the author. I'm a timeshare owner and an industry observer. The shift to point systems greatly reduces the desire and the need to use third party exchange companies. An exchange adds over $200 per week (the exchange fee) and many resorts are now adding a per day "amenities fee".
I'd disagree with your point that the branded timeshare companies have an advantage over the non-branded (Bluegreen/BBX, Diamond, etc.) because despite having access to a large pipeline of members, and of advantages in sourcing guests at hotels through in-stay promotions, the "non-branded" companies are also able to source guests through their own partnerships and channels above and beyond their own internal branded funnels.
Bluegreen is a great example, as they source many customers through their Choice Hotels affiliation, but also many customers through the Cabela's / BassPro affiliation, which I'd argue is at least equivalent to (there are pluses and minuses... Cabela's / BassPro customers are much more likely to be stickier and higher value "experiences" customers than transaction's just doing a once a year vacation, while branded hotels possess a lot more granular customer information) the branded timeshare companies.
On top of that, the valuation of BBX and Bluegreen are discounted to the market, and don't incorporate any possibility of Bluegreen being acquired by other timeshare companies (Wyndham would derive the most synergies, while the branded timeshare companies would either bulk up or establish initial coverage in areas they are weaker in relative to their current portfolios like the midwest USA and Florida).