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At Morton's, A Big Helping For The Money

Morton's Restaurant Group (MRT), a chain of steakhouses patronized mainly by corporate big spenders, is a bargain, say some pros. They argue that the company, acquired in 2002 by private equity firm Castle Harlan only to go public again on Feb. 26, is, at its current price of 17.30, the cheapest stock of any upscale restaurant chain. Aimee Marcel of Jefferies (which has done banking for Morton's) rates it a "buy" and figures it's worth 21. The stock trades at 16.7 times estimated 2007 earnings of $1.02 a share, while peers trade at more than 20 times. Morton's is the only big steakhouse chain that owns all of its 69 restaurants, located in U.S. and Canadian cities, plus Hong Kong and Singapore. "It's the best way to ensure the quality of our food and service," says CEO Tom Baldwin, who has been at Morton's for 18 years. It specializes in generous portions of prime steaks and lobster. Jeff Omohundro of Wachovia Securities says the chain has a "favorable growth outlook, supported by its consistency, operational uniformity, and strong brand recognition."

Note: Unless otherwise noted, neither the sources cited in Inside Wall Street nor their firms hold positions in the stocks under discussion. Similarly, they have no investment banking or other financial relationships with them.

By Gene G. Marcial

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