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Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is seeing revenues fall at hotels in oil-producing cities as low prices show no sign of rebounding.
But the Stamford, CT-based hotel company said during an earnings call Thursday that volatility in the energy market might mean investors are looking for safer places to park their cash.
Starwood said it owns hotels — including the high-end St. Regis New York — that could be attractive for big-ticket buyers. The company is looking to sell 19 hotels as it pursues a strategy of selling off assets and focusing on management contracts and other fees. It’s a strategy that Starwood’s impending buyer Marriott has stated it is eager to pursue following a likely merger in June.
Earlier this week, Starwood announced it had sold the Hotel Imperial in Vienna for nearly $79 million to the investment arm of Dubai’s Al Habtoor Group.
“As you saw with our Imperial deal, the sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies are still out there very actively buying, and we continue to see high interest there,” Starwood CEO Thomas Mangas said during the call. “Their motivation is much more of asset diversification. And I think that the worldwide financial gyrations that have been out there have only motivated them more to continue to diversify their portfolios away from energy or away from maybe Asian-based real estate into hotels.”
But the persistently low price of a barrel of oil, down more than 70 percent from mid-2014, also mean that investment in exploration is down and many companies are struggling.
In oil towns including Calgary, Edmonton, Houston, and Oklahoma City, Starwood said, revenue per available room declined in the fourth quarter. And per-room revenue in the Middle East dropped 6 percent for the quarter.
“Low oil prices have contributed to a pullback in government spending and cancellation of certain oil and gas projects in some markets,” said chief financial officer Alan Schnaid.
Other factors took a toll on business elsewhere in the world, including in Paris, where revenue per available room was down double digits after the November terrorist attacks.
Overall, the company reported that net income dropped 29 percent to $166 million for the quarter and was down 23 percent to $489 million for the full year.
Executives said they were focusing on their plans for the company even while preparing to be acquired by Marriott International. The deal, which was announced in November, is expected to close in the middle of the year.
“Our strategy and the interventions we’re taking address the things we can tackle on our own,” Mangas said. “But what led us to this deal are the strategic benefits of scale and efficiency of the combined company that go beyond what Starwood can easily address in the near term as a standalone company.”