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by Phillip Ristau

Steak N Shake (SNS) has 28,469,808 shares outstanding. The shares trade near a 52-week and multi-year (April 2003) low . On the most recent conference call, management acknowledged, “we have not been field focused for several years.”

Why would anyone invest in SNS? There may be a catalyst. There is a proxy fight to gain two board seats by tenacious value investor Sardar Biglari. A sale of Friendly Ice Cream was announced about 9 months after he disclosed his initial 13D filing in 2006 for about twice his average cost.

SNS owns about 155 of its properties. In 2001, it averaged about $1.1 million for 14 sale/leaseback transactions. Assuming $1.1 million x 155 properties equals $170 million or about $5.97 a share. In addition to selling the real estate at its company-owned stores, SNS could sell the stores themselves to franchisees to generate even more cash – this move is an important objective of Biglari. One goal (of many) of Biglari’s is for the company to refranchise its company-operated restaurants. Applebee’s and Denny’s received about $1 million per refranchised unit. SNS operates 435 restaurants, so if each restaurant is worth $1million, that is another $435 million ($15 a share) .

For 2006, SNS had 48 franchised restaurants and earned $3.88 million, or $80,854 per franchised-unit. SNS plans to open 9 company restaurants and 6 franchised restaurants in 2008. It will probably take 2-3 years to refranchise all 435 restaurants. Assuming franchise units grow 15 per year, that is a total of 536 franchised-units at the end of 2010. 536 units @ $81,000 is about $43 million in revenues. A pure franchise model should yield at least 15% operating margins. Operating income should approximate $6.5 million pre-tax. A pre-tax multiple of 12 (reasonable for a business with relatively high operating margins and very little in capex) gives us $78 million or $2.73 a share.

Putting it all together, SNS’s earnings are worth $78 million in three years, discounted at 10% equals $59 million or $2.06 present value per share for the pure-franchise model. In addition, a sale/leaseback plan for the real estate would generate $5.97 a share for the 155 properties it owns. Finally, refranchising 435 units might generate $435 million, or $15 per share. Since this operation would take time, I use a 10% discount rate and a three year time frame. I derive a present value of refranchising of $327 million, or $11.47 per share.

Thus, intrinsic value is $2.06 future earnings + $5.97 sale/leaseback proceeds + $11.47 refranchising cash for a total intrinsic value of $19.50 per share. SNS is currently trading around $11.

Disclosure: Author has a position in SNS.

Mr. Ristau is a value investor in Texas.

Source: Steak N Shake - Another 'Friendly' Deal?