Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

2 Restaurant Chains, 2 Different Pains

By Mac Greer - Oct 16, 2017 at 10:55PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

For Domino’s, excellent isn’t excellent enough. For Chipotle, food with integrity needs a different kind of integrity.

In this Market Foolery podcast, host Mac Greer, Total Income's Ron Gross, and Motley Fool Pro and Options' Jeff Fischer open with discussions about the peculiar challenges facing Domino's Pizza (DPZ -0.55%) and Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG 0.14%). The pizza-delivery chain beat expectations for the third quarter, and same-store sales grew -- but it wasn't enough to keep shares from dropping. The Mexican chain, meanwhile, needs to make some serious changes in tactics to address its queso quagmire. Then, the guys take what is, for them, an unusual detour into the subject of analyst upgrades and downgrades. Normally, paying attention to such things is anti-Foolish, but the recent pundit shifts on Disney (DIS -0.33%) and Square (SQ -3.06%) are worth considering.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Oct. 12, 2017.

Mac Greer: It's Thursday, Oct. 12. Welcome to Market Foolery. I'm Mac Greer. Joining me in studio, we have Jeff Fischer from Motley Fool Pro and Options, and Ron Gross from Motley Fool Total Income. Gentlemen, welcome! I feel like it's an embarrassment of riches with both of you.

Ron Gross: Wow, that's so kind of you.

Jeff Fischer: That is kind.

Gross: You have to include yourself there. You're not too shabby.

Greer: No, I'm not part of the riches. You're part of the riches, and the riches will include some discussion about Disney and Square. But let's begin with pizza. Ron, I know this is one of your favorite subjects. Domino's, reporting better-than-expected earnings on Thursday. Ron, I see these numbers and I see some pretty strong same-store sales numbers, but shares of Domino's, down today. What's going on?

Gross: I don't know.

Greer: Thank you.

Fischer: [laughs] Next topic.

Gross: [laughs] I think we're getting tripped up, and rightly so, on the better-than-expected phrase. But then, the actual reason the stock is down, it's because same-store sales were up 8.4%. Not too shabby, right? But, versus 13.8% this time last year. So growth is slowing, and the market is selling the stock off as a result. But yet, as you rightly said, they were better than expected, so that makes no sense. We can conclude here that the market makes no sense in the short term. And on any given day, the headlines can be misleading. You don't know exactly why people are selling off stock. These numbers are fantastic. They continue to be fantastic. You can't be unbelievably fantastic forever. So growth is slowing. But as I said, international store sales up 5.1%, that's 95 consecutive quarters of positive international same-store growth.

Fischer: Ninety-five?

Gross: Ninety-five. In the U.S., it's 26 consecutive quarters. The company has obviously knocked the cover off the ball over the years, starting from the time where they admitted their pizza was not too great, and they put a whole marketing campaign about that and were quite honest with consumers, which I love. We've talked about that before. You love it as well. Since then, it's just shown up in the numbers.

Another really important thing they did was they identified the franchisees that were not doing a great job, and they took the franchises away from those, reallocated them to folks who were going to do a better job. So that, in conjunction with the marketing campaign and making the pizzas taste better, really drove the expansion over the last six, seven, eight years.

Fischer: And a reason the stock may be cooling off after results is, the shares do trade at 40 times earnings. So that valuation multiple that Ron just talked about has really expanded for years for a long time now. And for comparison, Papa John's, which is maybe the strongest like-minded competitor, trades at 25 times earnings. Now, Papa John's has been struggling lately compared to Domino's.

Gross: And Yum!'s Pizza Hut, 29 times. That's a fair comparison as well.

Fischer: So they all get a premium, but Domino's far and away is at the highest premium.

Gross: You know, an interesting thing that they're doing, and some other companies like Jimmy John's have done it, they're doing a recapitalization, where they're basically selling bonds -- in this case, $1.9 billion worth of bonds -- and securitizing it with all the revenue of the company, all the different ways the company makes revenue. And they're getting a better interest rate than they normally would have by pledging all of these streams. And they've done this before, and it's kind of a trend we're seeing, and they're able to borrow at a rate, buy back bonds that are trading with higher interest rates, recapitalizing the company a little bit. They did a $1 billion advanced share repurchase program with one counterparty to take some shares off the table. So a nice recap at the same time that they're able to do, as the cash flow is streaming in. 

Greer: Ron, I want to allow you to take a victory lap here.

Gross: [laughs] I don't like victory laps.

Greer: You're being modest, but a lot of people who don't follow Domino's may be surprised to know that back in 2009, the stock traded at $5.28. And I mention that because that's when you recommended the stock.

Gross: Yeah, November 2008, actually.

Greer: 2008, $5.28. Today, stock closer to $200 a share.

Gross: Not too shabby.

Greer: So, what did you see back then?

Gross: I don't like victory laps, because then I have to apologize for the ones that don't go right. So I try to be even-keel.

Greer: You've held the stock, and you never have to --

Gross: No, I sold the stock a long time ago. I did very well, I'm not complaining, but nowhere near this well. And what I saw in the stock was kind of what we just mentioned, that the company was about to revamp the whole business, from the taste of the pizza to the marketing campaign to replacing the poor B- or C-level franchisees. And it seemed to me that was a pretty good bet at that point from a value investor perspective.

Greer: And let's talk about that marketing campaign. As you mentioned earlier, it's incredibly self-deprecating. They showed focus groups. They acknowledged that one of the most common criticisms of their pizza was that it tasted like cardboard. And I love that. Because then you root for the company. They're being honest with me.

So let's pivot to Chipotle. We've been talking about their queso, and their queso is really taking a lot of heat, a lot of criticism. Why doesn't Chipotle just come out and say, "We kind of blew it with the queso. We were trying to make it healthy"? People don't want healthy queso. They don't want horsey-tasting queso. They want yummy queso.

Gross: Does it tastes like horse? Is that a thing?

Greer: I'm just saying, they're solving a problem that doesn't exist.

Fischer: Horsey Sauce?

Gross: I think they're going to have to do something, because it's pretty universally not well received. You either take it off the menu, you improve it, or you leave it and be self-deprecating. I think leaving it and being self-deprecating is probably the last thing they'll do, because if people aren't going to buy it, what's the point in having it? I think they're going to have to just go back to the drawing board. It was on the drawing board for a really long time. That's why they haven't had it for all this time. They thought they finally got it right. They appear to have been wrong.

Fischer: Mac, you're right. People don't want healthy queso. Queso is an indulgence. They just want to enjoy it. That's their once-a-week treat. But Chipotle overall, I want them to show us how they're better than average, not tell us. All these years, they've told us, food with integrity, period, and they just left it there, without really laying out -- and Whole Foods called them out on this as well -- why it has integrity, and where they're sourcing it from, and what makes it better.

I'll compliment Whole Foods, which of course now is part of Amazon -- they've always laid out how they source their seafood and their produce, and why it's better and how they're working with farmers to make it sustainable and better for the environment and healthier for you, with well-detailed programs and explanations and supply-chain follow-through, something that I haven't seen Chipotle do. Chipotle instead put an asterisk up and says, "When we can get the pork from small farmers, we do." Otherwise, you don't know what you're getting. So Chipotle, across the board, by being holier than thou, has turned off a lot of consumers.

Gross: Does it bug you when people say "Chipolte" instead of Chipotle?

Greer: Yeah.

Fischer: It bugs me.

Greer: That holier-than-thou point is, I think, a really good point, Jeff. And I'm a Chipotle shareholder, but I want, and I've talked about this before, to create the sanctimonious index. And the more sanctimonious and self-righteous the company or CEO is, the more I think it should be shorted. And that's based on nothing.

Gross: Well, people love to knock people or things off pedestals. That's just our nature.

Greer: Right, but I also think it limits your market opportunity. If you're claiming to be something that you're not or that people don't care about, I think you limit the number of people that you potentially appeal to. Like, with the queso deal, why doesn't Chipotle just come out and say, "This is a guilty pleasure." They could even have a little starburst up on the menu -- guilty pleasure, queso. And then, bring in the Velveeta. Or do you think that hurts the brand?

Fischer: Too late now, I would say.

Gross: Yeah, I think it hurts the brand. You guys have made fun of me before about saying it's the stabilizers that the average stores put in the cheese to keep that creamy consistency, that they didn't want to have to use at Chipotle. So they tried their best to find a way to keep that creamy texture without stabilizers, and they just failed. Turns out it's not so easy.

Greer: Yeah, you have to have stabilizers.

Fischer: So they give you straws instead. Here's some queso and a straw.

Greer: OK, guys, I want to do something that we don't do very often on Market Foolery, and it's talking about Wall Street analyst upgrades and downgrades. Jeff, we don't do that because upgrades and downgrades are not great indicators of future performance. True statement?

Fischer: True statement. In the past, actually, they've actually been a good country indicator. That said, to the extent that most analysts, most sell-side analysts, are bullish and put out buy recommendations, they are right over the long term on good companies.

Gross: One of the main reasons I think they're not good indicators is, they're typically based on 12-month price targets, rather than long-term outlooks for companies, which is what we focus on here at the Fool. So it's very hard to get it right within 12 months. And I think we see it show up in the data that these companies aren't -- you can get a downgrade of a company even though the analyst loves that company long-term; they just think the stock might pull back within the next six months. That's not really investing as we practice it.

Greer: OK, so, we've given it some context here, we've qualified it, and we've said we don't really believe in these upgrades and downgrades. But they can tell us where some interesting areas of concern are, right?

Fischer: Yeah. It's good to see what analysts are thinking about, and what trends they're watching and why they make like the business or have concerns about it, definitely. But as Ron said, especially new investors should generally ignore upgrades, and definitely downgrades. I've seen new, younger investors, their stock gets downgraded and falls 5% and they get concerned and think, "I'd better sell it; it's been downgraded." Really, it may mean nothing at all, and it typically doesn't.

Gross: A little inside baseball: Institutional investors don't focus on it that much, either, even though you probably think they do. Buy-side, mutual funds, hedge funds, those guys, they have their own analysts to decide whether or not a stock is a buy. The sell-side guys, who we're talking about now, who put the headline on sell/buy/neutral, those guys are used mostly for their industry knowledge, not for whether they think a stock is a buy or a sell.

Greer: OK. So in that spirit, let's talk about a couple of upgrades and downgrades. Buyer beware here. Guggenheim, Ron, a big Wall Street firm, downgrading Disney. And here's the interesting part of the story to me -- on concerns over rising costs at Disney as it tries to compete with Netflix (NFLX -1.29%) with its streaming service. Disney, in August, announcing plans to introduce a streaming service in 2019. So, what do we think of this idea that Disney is less attractive because it's going to have to spend more to compete with Netflix -- which, by the way, I think is spending a lot?

Gross: I think this is a perfect example of the short term versus the long term. I think the analyst is right about the costs in the short term and the lead time it's going to take Disney to ramp this up. But even this particular analyst admits that long-term, he likes the company, and things look a little better. It's just that over the next 12 months, we might see costs spike, and the stock will pull back as a result. Again, if you want to start playing games like that, where you're going to sell the stock and then buy it back and then sell the stock and buy it back, you certainly can. But if you believe in the long term of Disney, let's call it five years from now, then there's nothing wrong with just buying it now and holding it and letting the volatility of the stock take care of itself.

Fischer: Yeah. I think it's right on of them to, after the August announcement from Disney, which said they're going to put all their content from Netflix and do their own streaming service, it takes some time to digest what that's going to cost or what it may cost and how it may affect the business. And by now, it's a good time to come out and say, "We have new concerns because of these costs." So I think, in that spirit, it's good to put these concerns out there. And as Ron said, longer-term they're optimistic. What's funny, though, and why you have to read downgrades completely as well -- anyone who's concerned about them, the stock is in the high 90s right now. Their target is still $105 per share. So they're still looking for the shares to go higher than where they are right now. And yet, they're downgrading it. So context is important. So Netflix has committed nearly $16 billion to content in the next few years.

Greer: Which seems like a lot.

Fischer: It's a fair amount. [laughs] Six billion this year alone. The cable business for Disney is one of its most profitable. Of its four divisions, it's usually second or third most profitable. It fluctuates between movies and the cable business. As we know, ESPN, the cable business in general, is under pressure as streaming grows. Disney is up against not only Netflix but Amazon and Hulu and, to some extent, YouTube. And they're going to have to spend a lot of money to, indeed, capture the zeitgeist of a change in how we view content that's already well out of the gate.

Greer: But they've got a bit of a head start with that content, right?

Fischer: Their content, some of it is the most valuable in the world. The Star Wars franchise, for one. But ...

Gross: The delivery mechanism is yet to be decided. And, specific to Disney, I'm not actually sure yet if this works for them or not.

Greer: Really?

Gross: Yeah, I'm unclear.

Greer: Oh, I think it is a slam dunk.

Gross: I'm unclear. But at 17, 18 times earnings, you're not paying up too much, actually, at this point, for Disney. Even 10 times cash flow or EBITDA, not that expensive. So even if you're someone like me who's not sure, you could probably still be a buyer of Disney and not get hurt at this level.

Fischer: At this price, I agree. I was looking at that as well this morning, Ron. The shares have come down some 20% in the past several months, and now it's 16 times expected earnings. It's near its average low.

Greer: Let's talk about one more upgrade. If you haven't figured it out now, this is just a cheap excuse. We wanted to talk Disney and Netflix, and now we want to talk Square. Jeff, Oppenheimer put an "outperform" rating on Square. I love that, "outperform." Square is a payment processing company that hooks up to those credit card readers. Guys, we were talking before the show about how we all love Square, like, I love seeing the little square come out. I don't own this stock.

Gross: Neither do I. Jeff does.

Greer: But I'm always happy when I see it. Jeff, what's going on with Square?

Gross: Well, there you go. That's a buy right there.

Fischer: You know, you're not the only one. For some reason, they're aesthetically pleasing to see, and it feels futuristic. So yeah, two out of three here in the studio feel that way, and that's the only reason I bought the stock. No, that's a joke that fell flat.

Greer: [laughs] No, I like it.

Fischer: A square joke.

Gross: Before the show, I was saying, it's a $12 billion company -- $11 billion is based on the shape, and $1 billion is based on the business prospect.

Fischer: [laughs] It's a recommendation in Pro this year. Fintech, as it's called, and digital payment services have done well across the board. Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, Square. And the reason for that is, more money is being transacted digitally. Cash is becoming an anomaly, almost. Square, where it fits in is, it's disrupting the traditional system of, if you're a merchant, a retailer, and you want to use credit cards, you have to pay thousands of dollars to get a machine, and sign these agreements and hook into the network. Square has made a point-of-sale system that basically offers you free of charge. And most of us have probably seen them at a coffee shop or some other place. It's basically an iPad screen, or it looks like one, and all the transactions go through there.

But it's not only the point of sale that they offer, and the easy hookup -- you can be up and running within an hour with their system for almost no cost. It's the software behind the scenes that you pay for that helps you manage their business better. It's the lending services that Square offers to small businesses. They're disintermediating banks as well. They have, I don't have the numbers in front of me, but they loaned more than $300 million last quarter to 49,000 different companies. The average loan is $6,000. I remember the numbers. So that's a small loan, and it's a short-term loan, and they know the company's finances and cash flow very well because they see the money going through the business, so they can make the loans more safely. Square is using mobile payments, AI, and machine learning as well, to build a new financial technology.

Gross: So we've said we've liked the shape, and the business model seems to make sense. I get that -- $12 billion company, not profitable, cash flow negative. Why would I be an owner of this stock?

Greer: And there's some competition, right? In fairness, when you look at that space, broadly defined, I see names like Apple and PayPal.

Gross: I've heard of them

Greer: They're not small fish.

Fischer: No, they're not. What's funny though is, they're all joining the leaders instead of trying to buck the leaders, meaning they're all allowing you to take Mastercard and Visa and whatnot. So as a shareholder in those, of course I'm happy to see that as well. But why buy Square? Their losses have grown smaller and smaller quarter by quarter, Ron. The business model lends itself to higher and higher margins over time. They're expected to -- they just recorded non-GAAP profits this year the last two quarters, and that's if you take out, mainly, stock-based compensation. They should be, including all costs, GAAP-profitable or GAAP-breakeven next year in 2018. Then the profits grow from there.

Gross: I would imagine the growth built in is pretty significant -- $12 billion is not the biggest company in the world, obviously, but those are real dollars, so obviously folks are thinking significant growth over the next five to 10 years.

Fischer: The cash flow dynamics should be very strong, and the leverage in the business should really make itself shown as the business keeps growing. The other benefit is, they're gaining larger and larger customers, no longer just a single person with the little square plugged into their phone. They're dealing with more and more retailers who have $500,000 in sales a year and up. So they're growing. And their software sales are growing as well.

Greer: OK. Well, my completely arbitrary exit question -- over the next five years, on a desert island, Disney, Domino's, or Square?

Fischer: I'd rather have Domino's, because you need food on a desert island. Is that what you meant?

Greer: How about the stock?

Gross: You know what? I'm going to give you a counterintuitive answer for me. I think I would say Square, because that's much more a bet on the future of where this fintech is going. And I think it seems like a more exciting investment than the other two.

Fischer: I would say Square as well, because they're still young and small-ish in the United States, and they're just entering the U.K. and Australia and other countries overseas. So they have a lot of room to grow. I think Ron made a key point. I find Wall Street and investing right now as interesting as I've ever seen it, because the changes are arriving so rapidly, and they're so connected to us, the consumers, that we can really see them, and see how they might play out. That's why Disney is under pressure, that's why Square is gaining some market share, that's why so many things have done well in recent years, from Facebook to Netflix to you name it. But Square looks like a company that's future minded, and Disney looks like it's trying to catch up.

Gross: How about you, Mac? I think you're a Disney guy, aren't you?

Greer: You know, I am a Disney guy. It's funny -- over the last few years, it's been one of my worst-performing stocks. So you never know in the short term.

Gross: It's one of my longest-term holdings. I bought it for my kids when they were born.

Greer: And Crocs. Crocs have just been on fire. I finally bought Crocs a while back because of you.

Gross: That's a little bit of a different thing, because that's a value investment.

Greer: It's like a dead Crocs bounce. [laughs] 

Fischer: I wouldn't bet against Disney, either. To produce great content is not easy, as easy is Netflix may make it seem. I am a little bit concerned -- can anyone burn out the Star Wars franchise? Will we ever tire of it?

Greer: I don't know.

Fischer: I don't think so. But I want to take the contrary view: What happens if we do?

Greer: Yeah, it's a good question. I'll tell you, my focus group, consisting of my oldest son, is all about Stranger Things. He's all about Stranger Things and Netflix now. He likes Star Wars, but I don't think near as much. I have underestimated Netflix for far too long.

Gross: Stranger Things figurines in the local Toys R Us anytime soon?

Greer: No, but he's dressing up for Halloween. And I may throw my Stranger Things costume in.

Fischer: That's a great picture. Already at Mac's house, they're wearing Halloween costumes. They're ready.

Greer: That's right. Is that wrong?

Fischer: Not at all. [laughs] 

Greer: OK. Jeff and Ron, thanks for joining me.

Gross: Thanks, Mac.

Fischer: Thank you.

Greer: As always, people on the show may have interests in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. That's it for this edition of Market Foolery. The show is mixed by Dan Boyd. I'm Mac Greer. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
$95.60 (-0.33%) $0.32
Netflix, Inc. Stock Quote
Netflix, Inc.
$177.28 (-1.29%) $-2.33
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Stock Quote
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.
$1,290.63 (0.14%) $1.76
Mastercard Incorporated Stock Quote
Mastercard Incorporated
$322.13 (1.21%) $3.84
Domino's Pizza, Inc. Stock Quote
Domino's Pizza, Inc.
$388.56 (-0.55%) $-2.15
Block, Inc. Stock Quote
Block, Inc.
$63.59 (-3.06%) $-2.01

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 06/29/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.