How do you spell value? At Jack in the Box
When fellow Fool Rick Munarriz picked JBX as a niche winner in December, the stock wasn't on my radar screen. After all, Chipotle Mexican Grill
But first-quarter results at Jack's place are looking solid. Comps at the namesake brand increased 1.5%, marking 18 consecutive quarters of higher comps. Emerging star Qdoba Mexican Grill was no slouch either, notching 4.5% higher comps, making it 34 quarters in a row. Not many restaurant chains are showing this kind of consistent growth.
The bottom line looked tasty as well, with EPS growing 15% to $0.60, blowing away analyst estimates of $0.57. The company has consistently "beat the Street" by more than 10% in each of the past four quarters. Not too shabby.
Food and packaging costs were 170 basis points over prior year on higher dairy and produce costs, but expense savings and gains on the sale of company stores to franchisees more than offset these cost pressures. The company regularly sells established units to franchisees; these gains are part of normal operations, not unusual items.
The reimaging effort continues on pace, with 51 restaurants getting makeovers during the quarter. The new item pipeline is also strong, with five new items introduced during Q1 (including the Big Deal combo), four items rolling out in Q2, and fruit smoothies on tap for a systemwide introduction in Q3.
Niche companies like Jack in the Box occupy a tempting space. They can innovate more quickly than larger quick-service chains such as McDonald's
With Jack in the Box trading at a price-to-earnings multiple of 15, compared with more than 20 for its much larger competitors, this stock just might be a big deal for 2008.
For related Foolishness:
Jack in the Box was recommended by Motley Fool Hidden Gems Pay Dirt. Buffalo Wild Wings and Chipotle (B shares) are Motley Fool Hidden Gems selections. Chipotle was also selected by the Rule Breakers team. The Motley Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings.
Fool contributor Timothy M. Otte surveys the retail scene from Dallas. He welcomes comments on his articles, but doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.