Chipotle (NYSE:CMG) is one of many restaurants that was negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The company had to temporarily close some of its locations and dining areas and swiftly alter operations. It made investments to increase its digital ordering and delivery capabilities so it could continue to serve customers.
Those initiatives are paying off as digital sales increased 216% in the second quarter, making up over 60% of the top line. Chipotle is reporting its third-quarter results on Oct. 21. Here are three critical updates to keep an eye on when the company releases its report.
The coronavirus pandemic is not deterring Chipotle's long-term growth ambitions
The first thing you should follow in the report is the comparable-restaurant sales figure. This measures revenue growth in locations that have been open at least 12 months, giving better insight into growth than the overall sales figure. In the second quarter, comparable sales declined 9.8%. This figure may have turned positive in the third quarter as the metric has been improving every month since April.
It will also be important to look at Chipotle's restaurant-level operating margin. In the previous quarter, the company reported a drop in that figure to 12.2%, down significantly from 20.9% in the year-ago period. Understandably, running a business during a pandemic comes with increasing costs. One specific cost to keep an eye on this quarter is the company's labor expense. Many companies are finding they need to pay employees more to maintain sufficient staffing levels, and Chipotle is no different. However, as of June 7, the company ended its employee assistance pay program, which may have helped lower labor costs in the current quarter.
Finally, investors should observe the pace of new store openings. During the second quarter, the company opened 37 locations, and of those 37, 21 included drive-thrus, which continue to perform very well. Perhaps what's more exciting for shareholders long term is what the company stated in the most recent quarterly report:
We remain confident in the long-term opportunity to more than double the number of Chipotle restaurants in the U.S. We believe our strong financial position will allow us to build a robust new unit development pipeline. As a result, we expect to see an acceleration in the number of units opened in 2021.
Shareholders may see an increase in the pace of openings in this report, but even if that isn't the case, management has made clear its enthusiasm for expanding the restaurant chain's footprint.
Looking to Wall Street, analysts expect Chipotle to report revenue of $1.59 billion and earnings per share of $3.39. Results that came in above those estimates, or business updates that show an increase in the pace of store openings or a robust recovery from pandemic-induced headwinds will push the restaurant stock, already up 58% year to date, even higher.