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2 Reasons to Worry About Jack in the Box Inc.

By Jeremy Bowman - Feb 23, 2016 at 10:30AM

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Both of Jack in the Box's chains showed key vulnerabilities in its most recent quarter.

Investors were getting indigestion following Jack in the Box Inc's (JACK 3.16%) fourth-quarter earnings report. The stock plummeted 16% as the fast-food chain missed estimates on the top and bottom lines. Revenue grew just 0.5% to $470.8 million, while earnings per share came in at $0.93 per share, well below estimates at $1.03.  

The burger chain also posted weak guidance for the upcoming quarter, projecting a decline in same-store sales of up to 3%, and Management pointed the blame for the weak performance at competitors. In the earnings release, CEO Lenny Comma said, "Several competitors began promoting aggressive value offers... In addition, we believe a competitor's messaging around its launch of all-day breakfast had some impact on our results, particularly in the 10:30 a.m. to noon period." 

While he didn't name names, Comma was clearly referring to McDonald's (MCD 2.46%), which launched its popular all-day breakfast platform in October. The extended morning meal hours helped drive McDonald's domestic comps up nearly 6%, and Jack in the Box wasn't the only other fast-food chain to feel the heat. Dunkin' Donuts reported its first same-store sales decline in years as McDonald's presumably cut into Dunkin's own all-day breakfast menu.

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Image source: Jack in the Box.

A resurgent McDonald's is bad news for a range of fast-food chains, especially those with budget-price options like Jack in the Box, as the popularity of the all-day breakfast menu is unlikely to go away. With 14,000 locations nationwide, McDoanld's also has the widespread footprint to lure customers away from its rivals.

The success of all-day breakfast is likely to weigh on Jack in the Box's comparable sales for the next three quarters, and subsequent offers like the McPick 2 for $2 could also bring more customers into Mickey D's stores and away from Jack in the Box. In spite of the all-day breakfast launch, Jack still managed to deliver a comparable sales increase of 1.4% in the quarter, and it envisions full-year growth of 1%-2%, following 6.5% growth last year.

Qdoba sales also hit the brakes
While McDonald's challenges present a problem on one front for Jack in the Box, it also saw surprisingly weak growth from Qdoba, its burrito chain and direct competitor of Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG -0.04%).

Chipotle's recent travails have been well documented. An E. coli outbreak infected dozens of customers, and a norovirus outbreak at a Boston store further soured the company's image, sending sales plummeting. For the October-December quarter, Chipotle's comparable sales fell 14.6%, getting worse with each passing month. The chain lost the equivalent of 10 million burrito sales in that period, or $72.3 million. That sum is equal to nearly half of Qdoba's total quarterly sales.

Qdoba, arguably Chipotle's closest competitor, has over 600 locations nationwide and started in Colorado, like Chipotle, just two years after its larger rival. It figures Chipotle's struggles might present a gold rush for Qdoba, but that was not the case.

Same-store sales at the Mexican-food chain improved just 1.8% last quarter, lapping a jump of 14% the year before. Notably, Chipotle's same-store sales also soared in the quarter a year ago, indicating that the two may track in tandem, perhaps according to the popularity of Mexican food, rather than competing directly. 

CEO Comma downplayed the effects of Chipotle's crisis, saying, "When Chipotle ran into some of their difficulties, we didn't see an immediate change in our sales that would tell us that there was a direct impact." He also added that there has not been any perceived effect in Chipotle's recent efforts to win its customers back. However, there is some anecdotal evidence on review sites that Chipotle fans gave Qdoba a try last quarter, indicating that comps may have gone negative without the Chipotle debacle.

For the full year, management sees comparable sales growing just 2%-3%, and between 0% and 3% for the current quarter, even as Chipotle's same-stores sales fell 36% in January.

Given that weak projection, Qdoba seems to be missing a crucial opportunity to gain on its larger rival. With net income declining in its most recent quarter and a rising threat from McDonald's as well, Jack in the Box's struggles are likely to continue through 2016. 

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Stocks Mentioned

Jack in the Box Inc. Stock Quote
Jack in the Box Inc.
JACK
$57.83 (3.16%) $1.77
McDonald's Corporation Stock Quote
McDonald's Corporation
MCD
$252.96 (2.46%) $6.08
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Stock Quote
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.
CMG
$1,306.80 (-0.04%) $0.46

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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