Expectations are running high at Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) as it heads into next week's earnings report. The market darling is leading the way in the fast-casual market category that offers the convenience of fast food but the higher quality of casual dining.
Wall Street's holding out for another strong third-quarter report on Monday afternoon. Let's go over a few of the things investors will want to watch as the results are announced.
1. Comps growth will probably decelerate
Chipotle is coming off a monster second quarter in which revenue and earnings rose 29% and 26%, respectively, from the prior year's showing. The big top-line driver was a stunning 17.3% surge in comparable-restaurant sales.
It's been a good run for Chipotle. Comps have been trending higher since the start of last year, much to the delight of shareholders.
- Q1 2013: 1.1%
- Q2 2013: 5.5%
- Q3 2013: 6.2%
- Q4 2013: 9.3%
- Q1 2014: 13.4%
- Q2 2014: 17.3%
Comps have accelerated sequentially for five consecutive periods, but that streak is likely to end on Monday. Chipotle did say back in July that it expects comparable-restaurant sales to grow in the mid-teens for all of 2014, in line with the 15.5% pop it has recorded through the first half of this year. That suggests another showing in the teens this time around, but it will be hard to top 17.3% on a year-over-year basis.
That's not to say it's impossible to surpass that mark. After absorbing three years of food cost inflation, Chipotle finally boosted its prices. Just half of the menu price increases flowed through during the second quarter, suggesting that we'll get a nice spike this time around on the new menu price points. If comps do top 17.3% -- and if Chipotle raises its already impressive store-level sales guidance for 2014 -- it will probably move the stock higher come Tuesday.
2. Earnings have a good chance of exceeding expectations
Chipotle consistently landed ahead of Wall Street profit targets pretty consistently in its first few years as a public company. Things haven't exactly panned out that way more recently. Before posting better-than-expected bottom-line results for this year's second quarter, Chipotle had fallen short of analyst forecasts in two of the three previous periods. It merely met the bottom-line target in the other quarter.
This isn't the kind of trend one likes to see heading into an important quarter. Chipotle's stock has soared 50% over the past year, so expectations are reasonably heightened. Analysts see revenue and earnings per share climbing 28% and 44%, respectively, on Monday. However, it's also important to remember the price increases that Chipotle began working into its menu earlier this year. It absorbed commodity food costs and the growing costs of operating a business for a couple of years, but margins should improve nicely now that folks are paying more for their carnitas and barbacoa.
3. Look for some expansion potential color on ShopHouse and Pizzeria Locale
Chipotle had 1,681 restaurants in operation as of the end of June. There's still room to grow, particularly internationally, but Chipotle isn't going to put all of its eggs in a single flour tortilla basket. I began testing the Asian fast-casual ShopHouse concept a few years ago, and Chipotle then surprised the market late last year by throwing financial backing to a fast-casual Pizzeria Locale concept.
It will be years before either concept moves the needle. There are only eight ShopHouse eateries open, and Pizzeria Locale is just getting started. However, Chipotle might provide some color on future expansion plans for its non-Chipotle concepts. That may not matter if the performance of its namesake chain is as stunning as it was three months ago, but sooner or later, investors are going to want to see that Chipotle has a second act ready to go if Chipotle itself starts to mature.