Tourism Booms: Why Starwood Bounced Twice As High As The S&P 500 Since March 2009

| About: Marriott International, (MAR)

Leaving aside questions about the health of the world economy, at ITB in Berlin, the world's biggest travel show, it's business as usual.

Tourism is an economy that exists somehow outside of borders. America may be suffering but Americans spent more on international travel outside their own country in 2012 than ever before.

Armageddon or not, the chart suggests either the price of oil drives tourism (and business) travel, or the other way around, or they are both driven by the same thing. Or could that just mean that rich people (bankers perhaps) are doing OK, while those left behind suffer?

It's a similar story in Dubai:

Interesting that in Dubai oil tanked in 2008, just before the "message" got through to the revelers. Perhaps over there oil prices drove the market?

The similarity with American outbound is close, but not perfect. A possible reason REVPAR in Dubai did not bounce as far as in the outbound from the US (different market) - might be because the 1,500 room Atlantis Hotel opened in September 2008. A less auspicious moment to open a huge hotel cannot be conceived.

Atlantis added about 30% to the "beach" supply. Take that out of the equation and the bounce would have been as high as the bounce-back in U.S. Outbound.

It's going to be interesting to see whether (A) whatever drives tourism/travel, is driving oil, in which case oil is not a bubble now, or ((B]) if not, then how a drop in oil prices, which is likely if oil is a bubble, will affect revenues in the international tourism sector.

Stock prices of the big hotel chains are intriguing though:

The start of the crash in international hotel stock prices started along with the start of the decline of the stock markets, the bottom though coincided exactly with the bottom in oil prices which preceded the bottom in stock prices by about a month.

The pullback pretty much followed oil prices (and stock prices). Starwood had a more exciting ride, probably because more of its earnings come from outside the U.S.

Perhaps hotels have the pulse on where the "other" world economy is headed?

Either way, the performance of stocks of hotel management companies makes the bounce back of the S&P 500 since March 2009 look positively pedestrian.

If the S&P-500 is a bubble as some commentators, for example adherents of the Tobin-Q model or CAPE, are saying, then Starwood has to be an "uber-bubble," except, those prices are driven by earnings in a part of the world no one controls.

Yes the King of Bongo-Wongo can decree, "100% tax on tourism this year," but then the tourists just go somewhere else and the only loser is the owner of hard real estate in Bongo-Wongo.

One thing to understand about these companies is that they operate somehow in "cyber-space" - they sell on the internet, they get paid on the internet, fees after local taxes get paid to wherever they decide is the most favorable place.

They are selling (mainly) U.S. brands, and U.S. capability, boosted up by sophisticated revenue-management systems. They typically have no exposure to the actual real estate they manage, although Marriott (NYSE:MAR) and Intercontinental Hotels (NYSE:IHG) own more real estate than Starwood, which may explain the difference in performance.

Where next? Well if the U.S. Outbound chart (above) is any guide, the only way is up.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: Reference comments: There are only four big international hotel chains, Hilton is privately held, IHG is listed on the London Stock Market

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