Chipotle's Lukewarm Quarter

Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG  ) (NYSE: CMG-B  ) may have beat analysts' expectations with its fourth-quarter results, but the quarter was still a bit lukewarm.

Net income dipped 3.2% to $17 million, or $0.52 per share. Revenue looked more impressive, surging 19.5% to $345.3 million, and comparable restaurant sales ticked up by 3.5%. Restaurant level operating margin dropped 100 basis points to 21.1%.

Of course, there's more to the sales figures than meets the eye. Chipotle said its increase in comps growth was due to higher menu prices offset by a decline in customer visits -- we can look at that fact and say "hmm." Some restaurant chains are resorting to raising their prices -- my Foolish colleague Kristin Graham pointed out that last quarter, Panera (Nasdaq: PNRA  ) was taking a similar tack -- and while that may help boost sales in the near term, it's not very heartening to realize customer traffic is actually down and that many customers may also get sticker shock from higher prices, since everybody's out to save a buck these days.

I think Chipotle's a great company for many reasons, but I'm less enthusiastic about it than I used to be. Its former parent, McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) , is much hotter these days, and earlier today I saw that Buffalo Wild Wings (Nasdaq: BWLD  ) managed a pretty impressive fourth quarter despite the economic headwinds. Months ago I assumed that it would do well even in penny-pinching times, but people just aren't flocking to the stores for some reason. Those price increases might not be helping, either.

Of course, temporary performance can be the perfect time for investors to load up on shares of any stock, but I think the stock seems awfully pricy when the business may need a bit of reheating. It's trading at 22 times earnings, which seems high compared to restaurant peers like McDonald's. Plus, Chipotle's 2007 full-year earnings only grew 10.8%. I'd say those with a craving for Chipotle should wait for a cheaper price -- and more signs of life -- to gobble up this stock.

Reheat some Foolishness about Chipotle:

Chipotle Class B shares and Buffalo Wild Wings are Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendations. Chipotle Mexican Grill is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. The Fool owns shares of Chipotle Class B shares and Buffalo Wild Wings. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2009, at 3:20 PM, jralso wrote:

    I like Panera. Motely deemed it likely to be one of the worst stocks of 2008 (in Jan 2008)....went up about 50 % over the rest of 2008. There might be a reason. If customers left from the price increases..I haven't noticed.

    But earnings are today...we shall see.

    I pay about a buck more for a meal there than at fast food joints....to each there own.

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