Jack in the Box (NYSE: JBX ) shareholders have had a pretty nice year -- a near double by my count. Hopefully, Foolish investors noted my original pounding of the table in January and did their own due diligence in time to buy prior to the run-up. Better yet, I see several positive trends that should continue to drive the shares higher still.
Even after the outstanding business performance this year, as same-stores sales rose 4.8% at Jack in the Box restaurants and 5.9% at Qboda, the shares still look cheap at a P/E of 19. While this is in line with industry averages, I think this chain's current outperformance merits a premium to the industry.
Management has been working for the past few years to revamp the image of Jack in the Box restaurants, in order to better reflect the quirky personality of its famous fictional founder Jack. At the same time, the company is working to expand the chain into a national presence fit to compete with the McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) and Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM ) of the world. The core Jack in the Box chain has been rejuvenated, and its same-stores sales have boomed this year as a result.
Keep in mind, though, that the company didn't neglect shareholder returns while making over its image. Return on equity for the past five years has been around 17%, an outstanding return in the restaurant sector.
In addition, the Qboda concept is kicking into high gear this year, just as I'd hoped. With 71 new restaurants opening this year, the chain's store count has grown 28%. Believe it or not, Jack in the Box plans another 80-90 new openings in 2007. With the Mexican quick-serve market led by highflying Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG ) , this chain continues to offer substantial upside for Jack in the Box, either as a growth catalyst or as a value enhancing spin-off. Jack in the Box has shown in the past that it will do right by shareholders. Spending three years in a rebranding process, rather than rushing out a quick fix to satisfy Wall Street, is a big plus in my book.
Finally, Jack in the Box is focusing on reaping the benefits of its restaurant base by pushing franchised restaurants to about 35% of its restaurant base within the next two years, up from 27% now. That means a substantial chunk of high-margin royalties, as well as any gains on sales of company-owned restaurants to franchisees, will be flowing to the bottom line. Like the chain's fabulous chocolate chip cookie cheesecake, this company's results should be good eatin' for some time to come.
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Fool contributor Stephen Ellis does not own shares in any companies mentioned. You canview the stocks he owns and check out histop10ranking in Motley Fool CAPS, the Fool's new stock-rating community. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.