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Originally published September 6, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Page modified September 9, 2013 at 11:16 AM

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Emeritus cuts outlook in wake of bad publicity

The Seattle operator of assisted living centers for seniors cut its annual financial forecast, citing a downturn that coincided with a highly critical TV documentary.

Seattle Times deputy business editor

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Shares of Emeritus dropped 10.2 percent and touched a new 52-week low Friday after the Seattle operator of assisted-living communities lowered some financial projections.

Emeritus president and CEO Granger Cobb said that after a strong July, “our current leading key performance indicators have declined relative to expectations.”

An analyst who follows the assisted-living industry said one likely factor is a highly critical Frontline documentary about Emeritus that aired July 30.

Emeritus also may have been “a little too aggressive” on increasing prices for new residents, and rising interest rates may be affecting seniors’ sales of their homes, said Dana Hambly, a research analyst for Stephens Inc. in Nashville.

Emeritus now expects full-year revenue in the range of $1.90 billion to $1.95 billion, compared with a forecast last month of $1.85 billion to $1.90 billion, according to Bloomberg data.

The company also reduced projected cash flow from facility operations — its key financial measure — to between $1.95 and $2.05 per share, from $2.10 to $2.20 per share in May.

Hambly, who talked with Emeritus after it issued the new guidance, said the leading indicators are measures like “the number of tours they will do, the number of deposits they get and the number of general inquiries” from potential residents.

During the final week of July, Frontline aired a documentary about the deaths of several dementia patients at Emeritus, and the nonprofit news service ProPublica published an accompanying series of articles.

“There’s probably some backlash from negative media attention,” Hambly said. The effect is hard to quantify, but “it seems to me more than coincidental,” he said.

If it’s the bad PR or the price hikes, “those company-specific issues are probably short-lived,” he said. “Talking to some of the other public-traded senior housing operators, my sense is that they are not experiencing the same thing.”

Spokeswoman Karen Lucas said Emeritus still forecasts a year-over-year increase of close to 20 percent in cash from facility operations, and is not projecting any decline in occupancy rates.

Shares of Emeritus, which operates 510 facilities in 45 states, fell $2.22 to close at $19.50. They set a new 52-week low of $18.81 in earlier trading.

Rami Grunbaum: 206-464-8541

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