Foolish Forecast: What's Cookin' at Jack in the Box?

Motley Fool Hidden Gems Pay Dirt pick Jack in the Box (NYSE: JBX  ) , owner of the namesake burger chain and Qdoba Mexican Grill, is set to report second-quarter results tomorrow. It has been a trying time for many restaurateurs, what with inflationary trends squeezing operators with rising raw-materials costs and pushing usually loyal patrons away. We'll know tomorrow whether this fast-food joint can buck the trend.  

What analysts say:

  • Buy, sell, or waffle? Ten analysts follow Jack. Five are bullish on the stock, and five others have hold ratings. The Motley Fool CAPS community has given Jack in the Box a three-star rating (out of five stars).
  • Revenue. Analysts project $685.9 million in third-quarter sales for mediocre 3.8% year-over-year growth.
  • Earnings. Analysts expect quarterly earnings of $0.43, or 7.5% above the $0.40 reported in last year's quarter.

What management says:
Back in March, when Jack in the Box released first-quarter results, management said to expect second-quarter same-store sales growth of 1% to 2% (compared with a 6.4% increase in the year-ago quarter) at namesake stores and 3% to 5% comps growth at Qdoba. At the time, management also projected full-year earnings of $1.98 to $2.08. Also, the company rolled out several new products in the second quarter, including the Sirloin Steak Melt and the Cherry Chip Bliss ice cream shake, so we'll get a glimpse of the initial results from them.

What management does:
Margins have decreased over the past couple of quarters, given the macro challenges. However, management has been selling company-owned stores to franchisees, which should help improve margins. Furthermore, the company has been using the excess capital to repurchase shares, which will additionally benefit existing shareholders.

Margins

11/06

01/07

04/07

07/07

09/07

01/08

Gross

16.2%

16.6%

16.7%

16.6%

16.5%

16.1%

Operating

5.3%

5.8%

6.2%

6.4%

6.3%

6.1%

Net

4%

4.3%

4.5%

4.7%

4.4%

4.3%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.

One Fool says:
Jack in the Box, Sonic (Nasdaq: SONC  ) , and Chipotle (NYSE: CMG  ) (NYSE: CMG-B  ) represent a tasty trifecta of fast-food operators because of their growth prospects. Each chain has yet to fully blanket the U.S., so they should outgrow competitors such as Wendy's (NYSE: WEN  ) , McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) , and Burger King (NYSE: BKC  ) , relying on new store growth to supplement more unpredictable organic growth during these slow times.

As seen with Sonic, management expects a drop in same-store sales for the rest of the year as rising food and energy prices take a toll on consumers. I wouldn't be surprised to see Jack in the Box announce lower-than-expected comps. But to a contrarian, disappointing results could send the stock price lower, which could present an even more appealing buy-in price for a company with favorable prospects over the long haul.

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