Domino's (DPZ -0.40%) shareholders sat out the broader stock market rally last year as the business struggled. Sure, the pizza delivery giant is still winning market share in the U.S. and finding plenty of room to expand in outside markets in Asia and Latin America. Yet its expansion pace decelerated enough in recent quarters that management decided to reduce sales expectations in both the short and medium-term.
That shifting outlook means investors have some big questions heading into Domino's earnings report on Feb. 20. So let's look at a few of the key metrics to watch in that announcement.
A shifting growth mix
The 8% revenue boost that Domino's achieved last quarter would be cause for celebration at most fast-food chains. McDonald's posted a 7% increase for fiscal 2019, for example, which was supported by its fastest comparable-store sales increase in a decade.
There are two dark spots in Domino's latest growth metric, though. First, it represents a 3-percentage-point deceleration from the prior year's top-line increase. Second, the slowdown is especially pronounced at its existing locations (i.e. excluding its newest stores), where comps fell to 2.4% in the core U.S. business from 6.3% a year earlier.
Executives in October noted that this growth still translated into market share gains, but they also said the competitive environment has become more brutal as restaurant and fast-food chains stampede into the home delivery niche. These worries mean investors will be watching the comps figure on Thursday for signs of stabilization after six straight quarters of deceleration. Domino's comps peaked at 8% in early 2018 and were at 2% at the last quarterly check-in.
Profiting from its position
Domino's is one of the industry's most profitable businesses, in part thanks to its leading innovation position that's always pushing the boundary on convenience in home delivery. Whether it's through new launches like the hot spot program or GPS tracking, the company is committed to finding new ways to impress its customers through the entire ordering process.
Consumers tend to reward companies that provide an unusual level of convenience, speed, and quality, which helps explain why Domino's operating margin is up to 39% of sales compared to 38% a year ago. More progress along that score is evidence the restaurant chain is maintaining its tech leadership -- and it also implies plenty of resources management can direct toward cash returns.
The 2020 outlook
CEO Ritch Allison and his team told investors back in October to expect slower growth over the next few years, with global sales gains landing at 7% to 10% rather than the 8% to 12% range it had last projected. Yet that's a wide outlook that at the lower bound implies nearly flat comps in the U.S. and in Domino's international business.
The company doesn't typically issue annual sales forecasts, but Thursday's report will mark an opportunity for executives to comment on whether they see 2020 growth landing somewhere within the updated medium-term outlook. The big question is tied to the comps deceleration investors have seen for almost two years. Domino's can generate healthy returns even if sales just inch higher across its portfolio. But a protracted market share battle against new delivery rivals may harm that investing thesis by pressuring sales and profits going forward.