Ever the overachiever, Popeyes Louisana Kitchen (NASDAQ:PLKI) left nobody hungry with its first-quarter 2015 earnings. After rising nearly 2% in Wednesday's regular session, Popeyes stock is up another 3% in after-hours trading as of this writing.
Quarterly revenue climbed 13.4% year over year to $79.5 million, helped by a combination of 35 net restaurant openings in Q1, as well as a 7% increase in global same-store sales. The latter figure includes a 7.1% increase in domestic same-store sales, and 6.1% growth in comps from international locations. Popeyes' net income rose 22.5% over the same period to $13.6 million, and -- keeping in mind Popeyes spent $11 million to repurchase 183,847 shares during the quarter -- net income per share climbed 26.1% to $0.58. Free cash flow through the end of the quarter also rose 24.6% to $17.7 million.
Analysts, on average, were anticipating lower first-quarter earnings of $0.54 per share, but on slightly higher revenue of $81.4 million.
The source of Popeyes' strength
According to Popeyes CEO Cheryl Bachelder, credit for the strong start to the year goes to menu innovation centered on the company's "Louisiana-inspired" food.
"Our five pillar strategic road map, coupled with excellence in execution, continues to deliver consistent results quarter after quarter," Bachelder added. "The strength and reliability of our performance gives us confidence in our organic growth opportunities, which include investments in human capital and international expansion."
For reference, the first four "pillars" to which Bachelder referred are to "build a distinctive brand," "create memorable experiences," "grow restaurant profits," and "accelerate 'quality' restaurant openings." In short, we're talking about an operating mantra that any great restaurant chain could -- or arguably should -- follow.
Last quarter, Popeyes management also decided to add a fifth pillar to the strategic road map, titled "Develop Servant Leaders." Specifically, this pillar focuses on drastically improving both employee engagement and diners' experiences. In any case, it's encouraging to hear that Popeyes' strategic efforts to better itself through its five-pillar system are continuing to bear fruit.
On guidance, taking market share
And the proof is in the pudding. Popeyes' domestic same-store sales have outpaced the chicken quick-service restaurant segment for 28 consecutive quarters now and beaten the overall QSR segment for 14 consecutive quarters. What's more, Popeyes' share of the domestic chicken-QSR market increased to 24.6% as of the end of Q1, compared with 22.3% this time last year.
Finally, for the full fiscal year 2015, Popeyes anticipates global same-store sales growth at the top end of its previous guidance range of 3.5% to 4.5%. As a result, Popeyes increased both ends of its guidance for adjusted earnings per diluted share -- albeit by "just" a penny -- to a new range of $1.84 to $1.89. Curiously, Wall Street's models currently call for fiscal 2015 earnings above the high end of that range at $1.90 per share.
Meanwhile, Popeyes reiterated its previous expectations for net restaurants openings this year of 115 to 150, which will increase its restaurant base by approximately 5% to 6%. That total includes 85 to 95 international restaurants, and three to five new company-operated locations. Popeyes also still expects to spend $40 million to $50 million on share repurchases over the course of the year, which could help explain why the market is willing to forgive the company for its light 2015 earnings guidance.
Simply put, this was another delectable quarter from Popeyes. And though shares currently don't look cheap, trading around 36 times trailing 12-month earnings and 26 times next year's estimates, I think that's an acceptable premium to pay given Popeyes' track record of healthy bottom-line growth. In the end, that's why it's not surprising to see the market bidding up Popeyes stock now.