Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) is swinging away in the on-deck circle. It steps up to the plate with its second-quarter results after Thursday's market close. The fast-casual restaurant operator is going to swing for the fences. The stock's been on a tear, up nearly 85% since bottoming out in February. Now it's time to see if it has literally and figuratively earned those gains.
Expectations are naturally running high as Chipotle's turnaround gains traction, but there are still a lot of things that can go wrong. Let's go over some of the things that the burrito roller needs to get right in when it serves up fresh financials later this week.
1. Chipotle needs to exceed expectations
Analysts are holding out for modest growth this time. Wall Street sees revenue rising 7.6% to $1.26 billion in Thursday's report, with earnings per share climbing 20% to $2.79.
Chipotle's been surprisingly consistent on the top line. Revenue has clocked in between 7.4% and 8.8% higher in each of the past three quarters, and this should be more of the same. Net income has been growing faster than revenue, but largely because of depressed results through 2016 and early 2017. Margins remain well below peak 2014 and 2015 levels, but that obviously hasn't been a deal breaker given the stock's meteoric rise this year.
The stock's big gains do weigh on investor expectations. It's not a surprise that Chipotle's rally has come with back-to-back quarters of Chipotle topping analyst profit targets. It will have to repeat the feat to keep growth investors close.
2. Restaurant traffic needs to turn around
One thing that didn't go well in Chipotle's previous quarter was its visitor count. Comps rose 2.2%, but only as a result of a 4.9% spike in average check as menu hikes and the addition of queso as an incrementally priced topping late last year made your burrito that much more expensive.
Traffic per location was negative, and this is naturally something that can't continue if investors are expected to buy into this turnaround. Investors will dig beneath the surface of positive comps to make sure that it's gaining customers to go along with the higher price points.
3. Niccol for your thoughts
The real catalyst behind Chipotle's rally was the announcement in February that Taco Bell chief Brian Niccol was coming in as the chain's new CEO. The second quarter was his first full quarter at Chipotle.
Niccol has promised to make the menu more exciting. He has also offered up strategies to shake up Chipotle's marketing as well as strengthen its day-to-day operations. It may be too soon to judge his work based on the second quarter, but any insight he can offer on future executable plans will play a starring role in how the stock responds to the report. Chipotle is distancing itself from the many mistakes it made between late 2015 and 2017, but it still has a long way to go -- and a lot to prove on Thursday.