Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) may have turned in better than expected earnings results Tuesday evening, but the market simply just couldn't take the heat.
Shares of the beer-and-wings-centric restaurant chain fell by more than 10% this morning after it reported fourth-quarter earnings that grew 23.6% year over year to $1.10 per share, easily outpacing the $1.06 per share Wall Street had predicted.
However, investors were less pleased with Buffalo Wild Wings' fourth-quarter revenue, which grew 12% year over year to $341.5 million, or slightly below estimates of $346.89 million.
If that growth seems sluggish with shares trading around 36 times last year's earnings, keep in mind that last year's fourth quarter also included one extra week.
On a comparable 13-week basis, B-Wild's quarterly sales actually increased 22%, driven by a combination of new locations and solid same-store sales growth at company-owned and franchised locations of 5.2% and 3.1%, respectively. Even better, fourth-quarter earnings per diluted share grew 57.1% over the same comparable period.
Finally, the company reaffirmed its previous guidance for 20% earnings growth in 2014.
Here's what happened
Funny thing is, those results actually resulted in a brief 8% pop during after-hours trading yesterday. So why the about-face?
Look no further than cautious forward-looking comments from management in Buffalo Wild Wings' subsequent earnings call.
Specifically, while being careful to insist that executives are "not big fans of making long-term predictions on wing prices," CFO Mary Twinem made it clear management knows wing costs can't permanently stay as low as they have been recently:
Looking at 2014 by quarter we expect our first and second quarters to deliver strong net earnings growth as we will be laughing over the record high wing prices that we experienced in the first half of 2013. We would expect the remaining quarters to have net earnings growth at a rate under our anticipated annual rates.
Remember, around this time last year shares of Buffalo Wild Wings plunged after wing costs rose to a staggering $2.07 per pound. By comparison, wing prices gradually fell to average just $1.64 per pound in the most recent quarter. And even though wing prices have risen from their December lows, they've still only averaged $1.34 per pound so far in the first quarter.
But even if wing prices continue to increase, this year Buffalo Wild Wings has a powerful ace up its sleeve: last summer the company implemented a new volume-based pricing structure which better aligns its costs with the prices diners pay. Early last year, it relied on a fixed-quantity model that crushed profits as the industry moved toward physically larger birds.
While there were no big surprises in Buffalo Wild Wings' results today, it's worth noting some investors are disappointed the company didn't follow today's beat by raising earnings guidance. I'll admit that's a fair criticism, even if the beat wasn't all that huge in the first place.
But after today's drop, shares of Buffalo Wild Wings are trading for around 22 times next year's estimated earnings -- a reasonable premium in line with its near-term earnings growth. And even if we put aside its international growth aspirations, we're still talking about a solidly profitable company that plans to increase its North American restaurant base by another 70%, to 1,700 locations.
In the end, as long as Buffalo Wild Wings continues effectively managing costs as it grows, I think investors would be wise to hang on to their shares.