Marriott shows drop in profits because of shorter quarter

February 19
HOTELS
Marriott profit hurt by shorter quarter

Marriott International’s profit tumbled 17 percent in the fourth quarter as revenue fell 14 percent.

The Bethesda-based hotel company said a shorter fourth quarter — 92 days in 2013 compared with 112 days the year before — contributed to its lower earnings.

For the quarter, Marriott posted a profit of $151 million, or 49 cents per share, down from $181 million, or 56 cents per share, a year earlier. Meanwhile, revenue fell to $3.22 billion from $3.76 billion.

Revenue per available room, a key industry measure, rose 5.1 percent for the quarter.

The Washington area, meanwhile, was a mixed bag for the company. Revenue per available room at hotels in downtown Washington rose 4 percent in the fourth quarter as business travel continued to pick up. In nearby suburbs, however, that metric was down 10 percent in the same period.

“The suburbs were hit a lot harder by sequestration and by the government shutdown,” said Laura Paugh, senior vice president of investor relations. “The Bethesda area and Northern Virginia, in particular, were hit by both of those things.”

Group bookings in the District were “very strong” in the fourth quarter, Paugh said.

“I wish we didn’t have the government issues in D.C.,” she said. “But all things being equal, the downtown area is holding up.”

Marriott has aggressively acquired new properties and begun building new ones in the past year, adding nearly 26,000 new rooms in 2013. An additional 195,000 rooms are in the pipeline to open later.

— Abha Bhattarai

TELECOMMUNICATIONS
Google to expand Internet service

Google announced Wednesday that it is working to expand its ultra-fast Internet service to nearly three dozen cities, including San Jose; Portland, Ore.; Atlanta; and San Antonio.

Not all of them are likely to wind up getting the high-speed fiber-optic service, Google Fiber, but the announcement is Google’s latest move to compete with incumbent carriers in local broadband markets.

“While we do want to bring Fiber to every one of these cities, it might not work out for everyone,” Milo Medin, Google’s vice president of access services, said in a blog post.

The process reveals an interesting power dynamic between the search giant and the mayors that will be competing for Google’s affections. Usually, companies must go through a complicated or costly process to dig up streets and install new infrastructure. But Google is so attractive to many mayors that it has been able to turn that model on its head.

In Kansas City, Kan., where Google Fiber is already being built, officials waived fees and made other concessions to woo the company. Google Fiber is also available or being built in Austin and Provo, Utah.

Google said it will announce which cities will receive Fiber by the end of the year. Until then, consumers may have a long wait ahead.

— Brian Fung

Also in Business

Risks of prolonged market turmoil in emerging markets and of deflation in the euro zone are threatening the world’s improved economic prospects, according to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF, in a staff report prepared for central bankers and finance ministers from the Group of 20, said the recovery is still weak and “significant downside risks remain.” A January global growth forecast of 3.7 percent for this year, from 3 percent in 2013, hinges on recent market volatility from Turkey to Brazil being short-lived, the report said.

Lululemon Athletica says its nearly year-long struggle with bad publicity linked to slowing growth and a messy product recall did not reflect any corporate intent to defraud shareholders, and that an expanded lawsuit suggesting otherwise should be thrown out of court. In a filing Tuesday night in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the Canadian yoga wear retailer said it promptly addressed quality control problems as they became apparent, and updated investors in real time about the impact.

Safeway, the second-largest U.S. supermarket chain, said it is in discussions about a potential sale of the company as it divests some assets and struggles to increase revenue. An agreement on a transaction hasn’t been reached, and there is no assurance a deal will be completed, the Pleasanton, Calif.-based company said Wednesday.

●●A Utah judge has blocked TV streaming company Aereo from operating in several Western states, including Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a related case in April. Broadcasters have argued Aereo is stealing TV signals without paying. Aereo says its tiny antennas should be treated the same as antennas that people use to pull TV signals for free.

— From news services

Coming Today

8:30 a.m.: Consumer price index released.

8:30 a.m.: Jobless claims released.

10 a.m.: Philadelphia Fed survey of the business outlook released.

Earnings: Clear Channel, Crocs, Groupon, Hewlett-Packard, Nordstrom, Radio One, Wal-Mart.

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