Why Brinker International, Inc. Shares Slipped

While Fools should generally take the opinion of Wall Street with a grain of salt, it's not a bad idea to take a closer look at particularly stock-shaking upgrades and downgrades -- just in case their reasoning behind the call makes sense.

What: Shares of Brinker International  (NYSE: EAT  ) fell 2% this morning after Wunderlich Securities downgraded the restaurant operator from buy to hold.

So what: Along with the downgrade, analyst Robert Derrington lowered his price target to $52 (from $56), representing just 9% worth of upside to yesterday's close. So while contrarian traders might be attracted to Brinker's price weakness in recent months, Derrington's call could reflect a sense on Wall Street that industry headwinds are just too strong to trigger a significant rebound.

Now what: According to Wunderlich, Brinker's risk/reward trade-off isn't too appealing at this point. "While we believe management has distinguished its business model as one of the more efficient within the industry, weak consumer spending and intensifying competition from struggling national competitors adds the risk of siphoning sales from Brinker's more healthy brands, and adding to creeping pressure from commodities and wage rates," said Derrington. "We have lowered our blended-SSS for Q4F14 (Jun) to 1.3% from 1.9% and EPS to $0.87 from $0.89; trimmed our FY15 SSS to 1.3% from 1.5%, and EPS to $3.12 from $3.20." When you couple that downbeat view with Brinker's still-hefty debt load and near-20 P/E, it's tough to disagree with Wunderlich's cautious stance. 

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