At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." So you might think we'd be the last people to give virtual ink to such "news." And we would be -- if that were all we were doing.

But in "This Just In," we don't simply tell you what the analysts said. We'll also show you whether they know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS, our tool for rating stocks and analysts alike. With CAPS, we'll be tracking the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the worst...
If you know anyone who's invested in Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG), you might have noticed them wearing a worried expression yesterday. An expression not unlike the face you might make upon finding a bug in your burrito. Wall Street banker Jefferies downgraded the stock Wednesday to "underperform."

What does Jefferies find so distasteful about this stock? Take your pick. At the most macro level, the analyst worries that recession-crunched consumers are eating out less, and staying home more.

Worse, once consumers get in the habit of saving money by brown-bagging it, Jefferies says it can take "years -- not quarters" for restaurant sales to recover. The analyst further notes that in the face of a recession, Chipotle has already hiked its prices by 6% this year, limiting the chain's ability to ask customers to ante up even more next year. Put it all together, and Jefferies sees little hope that Chipotle can grow either new foot traffic or margins on its existing customer base for quite some time.

Nervous yet?
If so, then you may take some (small) comfort in Jefferies' far-from-infallible picks. The analyst only gets about 46% of its recommendations right. Over the years, we've watched this banker make such subpar calls as:


Jefferies says:

CAPS says:

Jefferies's Pick Lagging S&P By:

American Express (NYSE:AXP) 



6 points

Halliburton (NYSE:HAL)



22 points

Wynn Resorts  (NASDAQ:WYNN)



32 points




37 points

In addition to its less-than-enviable record as a stockpicker, I'd also point out that Jefferies's concerns that Chipotle will be unable to increase profit margins through price hikes may not account for the likely margin boost from falling raw materials costs. As we all know, the prices of key commodities like corn and milk (read: "tortillas, sour cream, and cheese") have taken a tumble lately. While that's bad news for fertilizer folks such as PotashCorp (NYSE:POT), which suffers when food commodities prices drop, it's great news for anyone downstream from the cornfield -- Chipotle included.

In defense of Jefferies
Are there reasons to doubt Jefferies' prediction that Chipotle will leave investors with a bad taste in their mouths? Absolutely. Yet I'd be remiss if I failed to point out two other arguments that support giving Jefferies a listen today.

First, this very same analyst recommended buying Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD) back in November, when the market had soured on it. Within five months, that stock turned into nearly a two-bagger. While anybody can get lucky once, I do think it's interesting that Jefferies' good fortune struck right here in the restaurant space, next door to Chipotle.

And second, the stock's looking a little rich right now. (No offense to my Foolish colleagues who remain bullish on Chipotle's prospects. Both Motley Fool Hidden Gems and Motley Fool Rule Breakers have recommended the stock.)

Chipotle is selling for 33 times trailing earnings and 26 times forward earnings. Even if you think Jefferies is overstating Chipotle's difficulties, I have to say that the 23% five-year earnings growth the rest of Wall Street predicts for this company doesn't seem to justify today's price. And in this market, 23% growth would require selling a lot of guacamole.

Still, if you simply must invest in Chipotle, have a look at its Class B Shares, which trade at a significant discount (15% now, and often far greater) and have more voting power.

Foolish takeaway
I take no pleasure in siding with "Wall Street," and against my Foolish colleagues, but Chipotle's price today offers investors no margin of safety whatsoever. The stock's priced to underperform, and I expect that's exactly what we're going to see it do.

Buffalo Wild Wings and Chipotle (Class B) are Motley Fool Hidden Gems selections. American Express is an Inside Value pick. Chipotle is a Rule Breakers recommendation. The Fool owns shares of American Express, Chipotle (Class B) and Buffalo Wild Wings.

You can find Rich on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 340 out of more than 130,000 members. The Fool has a disclosure policy.