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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Hot Topic, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, InterContinental Hotels Group, Hyatt Hotels and Marriott International

CHICAGO, Jan. 4, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks.com announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Hot Topic Inc. (Nasdaq:HOTT), Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (NYSE:HOT), InterContinental Hotels Group (NYSE:IHG), Hyatt Hotels Corporation (NYSE:H) and Marriott International Inc. (NYSE:MAR).

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Here are highlights from Thursday's Analyst Blog:

Hot Topic Holiday Comps Surge

Hot Topic Inc. (Nasdaq:HOTT) posted robust sales and comparable store sales (comps) results for the holiday season for the combined months of November and December. Moreover, the company maintained its guidance for the fourth quarter.

Hot Topic's comps for the nine weeks ended December 29, 2012, inched up 2.2% compared with 1.8% reported in the comparable year-ago period. The increase in comps was driven by a 1.6% rise in comps at the company's namesake stores and a 5.5% hike in Torrid stores.

Hot Topic's net holiday sales increased 4.0% year over year to $177.3 million, on account of robust sales in Torrid concepts stores as well as marginal improvement in the company's namesake stores. On a segmental basis, net sales inched up 0.8% year over year to $141.1 million at the company's namesake stores, while Torrid stores registered a 18.8% increase with sales of $36.2 million.

Positive results during the holiday season mainly came from the new merchandising and sourcing strategies at Torrid. Further, the company continued to benefit from favorable customer response to the fashion apparel and tee businesses, which largely made up for the drag in the accessories category.

Year-to-date Sales Data

Year to date, the company's total sales grew 4.2% to $686.0 million driven primarily by strong sales at Torrid concepts. Net sales improved 1.7% year over year to $514.2 million at the company's namesake stores, while Torrid stores registered a 12.3% increase with sales of $171.8 million.

Comps were up 3.4% compared with the 1.3% rise reported in the year-ago period. This increase was driven by 3.5% and 3.0% comps growth at the company's namesake stores and Torrid stores, respectively.

Outlook Intact

23 cents27 cents21 cents25 cents

Hot Topic also provided initial guidance for fiscal 2013 (52 weeks ended February 1, 2014), anticipating a 30% – 35% increase in earnings compared to fiscal 2012. This guidance assumes comp sales to increase in the low-single-digit range.

Further, management remains confident about its business prospects in 2013, anticipating continued growth from its Torrid segment. Buoyed by such an overwhelming outlook, the company reaffirmed its plan to open 40 new Torrid stores, 15 new Hot Topic outlets and an additional 5 to 10, newly introduced Blackheart stores in 2013.

Share Repurchase Program

December 2012$9.86$25 million

$25.0 million

Record Deals for Starwood in 2012

Leading hospitality company Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (NYSE:HOT) recently declared that amid such global macroeconomic turmoil, it has entered into maximum number of hotel agreements in 2012.

At the end of 2012, the company inked nearly 125 new hotel management and franchise deals, which reflect an increase of 13% year over year. Of its total pipeline, 20% of hotel deals are consistent with the company's brand conversion strategy.

Earlier, the company projected to unveil 71 new hotels with nearly 18,500 guestrooms located across 20 countries by the end of 2012.

The company will be able to beef up its portfolio with these new deals and hotels, especially in the emerging markets. In 2012, the company entered into the maximum number of hotel deals in the developing markets. In order to ramp up its presence in the flourishing Chinese market, Starwood Hotels is set to introduce its 125th hotel in the country in 2013.

Moreover, in a concerted endeavor to strengthen its full-service, luxury/upscale brands portfolio the company opened various significant properties in 2012. The company has unveiled new hotels such as Blue Mountains in Australia, Metropole Palace in Serbia and Twelve at Hengshan in Shanghai under its luxury brand St. Regis. The company's W brand also had a strong year with its debut in Paris, Bangkok and Singapore.

Besides, the company's upscale brand Sheraton, Westin and Le Méridien also witnessed the opening of various new properties including The Westin New York Grand Central in Manhattan, Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central, The Westin Lake Las Vegas, Le Méridien Arlington, The Westin Snowmass Resort, Sheraton Vitoria in Brazil and Le Méridien Mexico City in Mexico.

The company's mid-market brands, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft and Element also grew in 2012. Starwood introduced highest number of hotels under its Four Points by Sheraton brand in 2012. In addition, Aloft made its debut in Zhengzhou Zhengdong in China and San Jose in Costa Rica. The company also launched its Element brand in South Florida with the opening of its first hotel in Miami International Airport.

Starwood Hotels competes with major hoteliers like InterContinental Hotels Group (NYSE:IHG), Hyatt Hotels Corporation (NYSE:H) and Marriott International Inc. (NYSE:MAR).

Starwood currently retains a Zacks #3 Rank (a short-term 'Hold' rating).

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