"Where's the beef?" burger chain Wendy's
The company said U.S. comps at its Wendy's restaurants rose 9.4%, with better results at company-owned outlets than at franchises. At its Tim Horton's donut, soup, and sandwich chains, meanwhile, same-store sales improved some 6.6% in Canada and nearly 9% in the U.S. These numbers continue a solid trend at Wendy's, which now says same-store sales are in the black for 2003.
Most of the other news from the fast-food chain amounts to "more of the same." New products have been well-received and its cold-weather and holiday offerings continue to roll out. So, too, does its share repurchase program.
Perhaps the best new nugget was an increase of its near-term 2003 earnings guidance to between $2.01 and $2.04 per share. That's a range of about 6% to 8% growth for the year, not bad considering that same-store sales are only now turning positive. (December same-store sales are scheduled for a Jan. 6 release, while Q4 and 2003 earnings are planned for Jan. 30.)
Given that much of the segment's recent history has been one of fierce pricing competition led by McDonald's
Wendy's now trades for about 20 times projected 2003 net income. A slightly higher earnings multiple is implied given that the company, while cash-flow positive, hasn't historically returned free cash flow in excess of reported net income. Because the business is, by nature, capital intensive and still growing, it's understandable. Whatever the case, Wendy's current valuation doesn't look like much of a bargain: We would have had better luck earlier this year when quarterly results were comparatively downbeat. (At least one Fool Community member had such an idea back in June.)
With signs of improved store-level performance and opportunity to grow, particularly at its Tim Horton's and well-regarded Baja Fresh casual Mexican chains, Wendy's long-term earnings growth target of 12% to 15% doesn't look impossible. A quick price-to-earnings growth check, however, suggests that the market has already given the company credit -- and then some -- for doing so.
Outstanding companies such as Wendy's are rarely available on the cheap, but the premium the market's asking for its reputation at this time should cause investors on the sidelines to pause and wait for a better opportunity.
Do you have a beef with Wendy's these days? Let your fellow Fools know in our Wendy's discussion board. Only on Fool.com.
Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.