Marriott Corp. president J. W. Marriott Jr. yesterday asked rhetorically if his company should sacrifice some of its growth to pay dividends to stockholders.
Marriott is the only major company in the hotel and restaurant business that doesn't regularly pay dividends.
The lack of a dividend is one of the few criticisms of Marriott voiced in the investment community and was questioned yesterday in a meeting between Marriott officials, the press and investment analysts who follow the company's stock.
"What do you think we should do?" the company president responded when one of the analysts raised the issue.
In an unusual half-hour give and take session, most analysts agreed that paying dividends would make Marriott Corp. a more attractive investment and would raise the price of the company's stock.
But there was considerable disagreement over how much growth Marriott could afford to give up to finance the dividened. Several analysts suggested the company ought not to lower its corporate growth goal of 15 per cent a year.
Acknowledging that Marriott Corp. officials have discussed strategies that would permit a dividend, the company president said the motivating factor was the price of the company's stock.
marriott share recently have traded in the $10 range on the New York Stock Exchange, with a price to earnings ratio of around 10. In contrast, the stock of the McDonald's hamburger chain, which pays a token dividend, sells for 16 times earnings.
"What can we do to get the PE (price-earnings ratio) up?" asked Marriott, outlining a scenario in which the company would slow its growth rate to 10 per cent a year. Taking cash that would otherwise finance expansion, the company could pay a dividend amounting to 25 to 40 per cent of its earnings per share, he suggested.
In a show-of-hands vote called by the company president and counted carefully by its top executives, a majority of the two dozen bank and brokerage firm analysts fovored the suggestion.
The hands also agreed that even a token dividend of only 10 per cent of earnings per share - the rate paid by McDonald's, it was noted - would boost the price of Marriott stock.
A small dividend might be only temporarily good for the stock, and would be welcome only as a step in the right direction, it was suggested by several of the analysts.
One of the analyst suggested that with a modest dividend and a commitment to maximizing growth. "You could have you cake and eat it, and so could your stockholders."
Marriott's scenarios assume that any dividend would not increase corporate debt, company officials stressed.