Fortunes of Transworld looking up now that it's shed its airline

Hard times had become a way of life for the Transworld Corporation, buffeted by problems from its money-losing flagship, Trans World Airlines Inc. But now that Transworld has turned its back on its airline origins, the company is showing new signs of life.

Transworld spun off its interest in TWA - 81 percent of the stock - in February to concentrate on its four other consistently profitable subsidiaries: Canteen Corporation, an institutional food and vending service; Hilton International, which operates 90 hotels; Spartan Food Systems, which operates fast-food chains; and Century 21 Real Estate Corporation, a franchised chain with more than 6,000 real estate operations.

Clearly TWA had"been a drain. Including the airline in 1983 results, Transworld recorded a net loss of $7.7 million, or a deficit of $1.37 per share, from all operations. Without the airline, results of the remaining continuing operations were more favorable. Restated, earnings increased 31 percent, to $60. 2 million, or $1.29 a share, from $45.9 million, or $1.03 a share, on revenues that rose to $1.9 billion, from $1.8 billion, a gain of 6 percent over the year-earlier period.

For the moment, the spinoff seems to have satisfied both Wall Street and stockholders. Pretax profits for the first quarter, ended March 31, soared 92 percent over the year-ago period, and analysts forecast earnings this year in the range of $3 to $3.25 a share. ''They're a uniquely positioned company,'' said Eliot Fried, an analyst at Shearson Lehman/American Express Inc. ''They're in three growth businesses and, hopefully, a fourth.''

Lester Pollack, a partner in Odyssey Partners, which owns 300,000 shares of Transworld's stock and had pushed for the divestiture, said the separation has been ''beneficial'' to shareholders. ''That was one step, and we think there are other logical steps,'' he added. ''In an environment in which financial service companies are much in demand, Century 21 might be a logical divestiture, leaving the company still strong in food service and lodging.''

Asked to comment, Nicholas C. Moren, Transworld's treasurer, said, ''We have no plans to dispose of any of our operations. We believe we can make them all continue to grow.''

For its part, Transworld management seems eager to put its past behind it and get on with building its new enterprise. Directors recently created two new positions, promoting Charles J. Bradshaw to president and chief operating officer and Frank L. Salizzoni to vice-chairman.

Mr. Bradshaw, senior vice-president for food services since 1980, will have responsibility for Transworld's hotel and food-service operations. Mr. Salizzoni , senior vice-president for finance and administration at Transworld since 1979, will have continuing responsibility for Century 21 and Dunhill Personnel System, as well as finance, planning, and corporate development, including Transworld's acquisition program.

The company has hinted that an acquisition, possibly in the consumer services area, may be in the offing. ''The company has clearly indicated they know how to run a consumer service business, and adding to that should impress investors positively,'' said Mr. Fried of Shearson Lehman/American Express.

The key to Transworld's future could rest on how well it puts into effect its new service strategy. The architect of that strategy is L. Edwin Smart, the chairman and chief executive, who wants to shape the company into a more servica-opianted corporation both domestically and overseas.

So far, the strategy appears to be paying off. In food services, Canteen, benefiting from a revived economy, has improved its profit margins and is increasing penetration of the service sector. This, Mr. Fried figures, ''should enhance the growth of the company, which hasn't been a growth company.''

Meanwhile, Transworld is looking toward its two restaurant chains in the Southeast, Hardee's and Quincy Family Steak House, to spur future growth in its Spartan division. At the end of the first quarter, Spartan had 445 restaurants ( 273 Hardee's and 172 Quincys), an increase of 50 units over last year's similar quarter.

Century 21's future will likely depend largely on the housing market, particularly the sale of existing homes. Right now, business is strong, but there is uncertainty over the direction of interest rates. Another unknown is the potential effect of adjustable-rate mortgages on home sales. ''It makes it more difficult to forecast the market,'' said Coleman Sullivan, Transworld's manager of investor relations.

Another potential trouble spot is Hilton International. Battered by the worldwide recession and the strong US dollar, the hotel chain reported pretax earnings of $43.1 million for 1983, off 23 percent from 1982.

Despite the falloff, Hilton International has no plans to curtail its expansion program, according to Mr. Moren. He said the chain plans to continue expanding in the United States under the name of Vista International. Several weeks ago, Hilton announced plans for a new hotel in Shanghai.

Aside from these problems, the immediate future looks bright. Transworld's balance sheet in its first full year since the spinoff remains storng. True, its stock, at $26.50 as of June 27, is still trading like an airline. And its return on equity dropped to 13.2 percent, from 14.2 percent in 1982. But this resulted from a 25.6 percent increase in the company's outstanding shares, to 28.1 million.

Transworld has anexcess cash flow ovejPx -OoOe its capital requirements, giving it considerable flexibility should it wish to make acquisitions.

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