Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG ) will release its second quarter results on Thursday, July 18, after the market's closing bell. Here's what to look for in the report.
A return to spicy growth?
Wall Street expects the Tex-Mex chain to record a strong quarter, booking $2.81 a share in earnings on a 16% bounce in sales. If it can hit those numbers, Chipotle will see its first quarterly sales growth improvement since early last year.
An expanding store base should help drive those revenue gains. Chipotle plans to open as many as 180 new restaurants this year, and has brought 48 new locations on, so far.
But sales growth at existing stores will need to improve, as well. The company logged just a 1% rise in comparable sales last quarter, well below the 13% jump it saw to begin 2012. Yum! Brands' (NYSE: YUM ) Taco Bell did much better in the first quarter, growing comps by 6%. However, sales growth slowed to 2% at Taco Bell in the second quarter. We'll find out on Thursday whether that's because Chipotle was able to steal some market share from the fast food chain.
Pricing tweaks ahead
Wall Street will also be watching for any word that Chipotle is raising menu prices. It's no secret that food costs are on the rise. But that's been hurting Chipotle more than its rivals. After hitting 33% of sales last quarter, food costs pinched operating margins by more than a full percentage point.
But, with sales growth slowing, management hasn't felt confident enough to pull the trigger on price hikes and risk making the problem worse. Other fast-casual restaurants haven't had the same issue. Panera Bread (NASDAQ: PNRA ) , for example, benefited from a 2.3% rise in prices last quarter that helped fuel a 3.3% jump in comps. And, despite a similar reputation for using high-quality ingredients, the baker's food costs are much lower than Chipotle's, at a steady 29% of sales. Assuming sales growth firms up, there's no reason why Chipotle can't follow Panera's path and pass along some of its rising costs to customers.
Foolish bottom line
Chipotle's stock isn't far from the all-time highs it set when it was booking much higher growth. And, at more than 40 times trailing earnings, the valuation seems even more out of line with recent performance. However, investors appear to be betting that bigger revenue gains are in store, and that attached to those gains will be a pricing boost that should goose profits for the burrito maker.
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