Should You Buy Dunkin's Hot IPO?

Yesterday, the IPO of Dunkin' Brands (NAS: DNKN) flew out of the gate, rising 47% to $27.85 per share. Fool Bryan White had a great rundown on the company before its debut. Dunkin' has been one of 2011's more anticipated IPOs, even though it offers decidedly old-economy fare compared to other hot IPOs this year.

But the market is now pricing Dunkin' shares at 17 times EBITDA, which looks dear compared to competing donut-frier Tim Hortons (NYS: THI) . I asked three of our analysts whether it was time to buy the name behind Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins.

Chris Baines, analyst
Yes, Dunkin' Brands has a lot of debt. Is that a bad thing? Heck no.

If there any business could benefit from lots of debt, it's Dunkin'. Its nearly 100% franchised business is remarkably stable and recession-proof, since coffee and donuts are practically mandatory spending for many Americans. Dunkin's high interest expense simply means that changes in revenue will have a magnified impact on the bottom line. For a slow and steady grower like Dunkin', that's more of an asset than a liability. (Literally it's an accounting liability, but you catch my drift.)

When you combine that high debt load with the high operating leverage of a franchiser, like McDonald's (NYS: MCD) , you can see that tons of fun await investors if Dunkin' achieves only modest sales growth. (The company plans to double its number of stores over the next 20 years.) That's why Wall Street has priced Dunkin' so loftily. The donut-meister outpaced McDonald's revenue growth last year.

But the price, mind you, really isn't that expensive. Compared to Starbucks (NAS: SBUX) -- whose non-franchised business model and growth opportunities are less compelling -- Dunkin' trades at around 36.7 times last year's pro forma earnings, against Starbucks' roughly 30.9. Considering that slow revenue growth could make a serious dent in Dunkin's P/E, it's still a good deal for long-term owners who can wait out post-IPO volatility.

Rick Munarriz, analyst
I'm sorry. I can't view this through jelly-filled glasses: Dunkin' is no $3 billion company. We're talking about anemic top-line growth, marginal profitability, and a concept that has delivered negative store-level comps in two of the past three years. You have to go all the way back to 2006 to find the last time that comps even kept pace with historical inflation growth!

It's ironic that during the same week in which McDonald's agreed to make its Happy Meals healthier, and Whole Foods Market (NAS: WFM) launched a charitable foundation to fend off childhood obesity, we're celebrating the debut of a company that sells fatty doughnuts and ice cream.

I'm more worried about waste lines than waistlines, though. Dunkin' wants investors to buy into the merits of a popular franchise model, but making money here won't be as easy as sitting back and collecting passive royalties. Where are the economies of scale in this much-touted model , when Dunkin's sporting net margins of less than 5%?

I'll stick to McDonald's, thank you very much. At least there, I'm treated to consistent double-digit net margins. The world's largest burger chain also has tested its recession-resistant mettle, and it's not simply busy during the morning breakfast rush.

Anders Bylund, analyst
We've seen plenty of this year's IPOs debuting way above the official offering price. On their respective first days of trading, Pandora (NYS: P) jumped as high as 62% above the $16 starting price, and LinkedIn (NAS: LNKD) briefly commanded an IPO premium of 170%. So Dunkin's first-day jump is nothing special.

But those other high-tech IPOs didn't stay strong -- in a matter of days, LinkedIn shares had fallen by double-digit percentages, and Pandora gave up its offering premium right away. Even if both stocks have since recovered, I don't think that either one should have.

Both LinkedIn and Pandora are burning cash every quarter, and they're still struggling to figure out profitable business models. Admittedly, I'm encouraged by increasingly varied Pandora ads, now including traditional marketing stalwarts like Toyota's Lexus division. By stark contrast, Dunkin' comes in with a long and generally profitable operating history, with strong and rising cash flows.

In short, I think that Dunkin' deserves a premium, whereas many other instant market darlings don't. In fact, running Dunkin's numbers through our Inside Value newsletter's DCF calculator (click here to take the tool for a spin with a free trial) with extremely modest growth assumptions of 5% a year tells me that this stock is worth nearly $37 per share. In short, you still have a margin of safety here.

Foolish bottom line
We have two yeas and one nay from our analysts. If you need to get more fill on the Dunkin' IPO, click here to listen to our radio show. What do you think? Is it time to buy Dunkin' Brands? Let us know in the comments section below.

At the time this article was published Jim Royal, Ph.D., does not own shares of any company mentioned here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Whole Foods Market and Starbucks.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Tim Hortons, Whole Foods Market, McDonald's, and Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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