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Chain restaurants face 'flush-out' in 2010: report

"The restaurant industry needs more equity, not more debt"

Janney Montgomery Scott LLC restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski got publisher Franchise Times Corp. president John Hamburger to prognosticate at a conference yesterday, and kindly sent investors the highlights. Samples:

- In a word: "Sales are brutal...Last weekend was brutal... Can you believe this brutal economy?"

- "Some good news is that the Big Three lenders - Wells Fargo, GE Franchise Finance, and Bank of America - have all remained in business," unlike the early 1990s downturn, when key lenders "shut their doors for good." In fact, more lenders are getting into restaurant loans, including Citizens Bank, Regions Bank and Irwin Financial.

- But the "restaurant industry needs more equity, not more debt." 

- Another year of cost-cutting and "menu tricks" (smaller portions) won't work. Cheeseburger-based bar-and-grill chains have not "done enough to stay revelant to today's and tomorrow's casual-dining users." Big chains that stop innovating face "negative growth rates." 2010 could be a "flush-out year" where restaurants change owners or shut.

- Hamburger praised Buffalo Wild Wings as a "contemporary" B&G still attracting new customers. And low-priced, no-tipping "fast casual dining" joints like privately-held Five Guys and Smashburger "are doing decent volumes."

- McDonald's, Yum Brands and Jack in the Box will be buying back franchises cheap.