How Chipotle Took a Big Bite Out of Earnings

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When Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG) reported its fourth-quarter financial results late Thursday, it said that it had $0.55 in earnings per share (EPS) and $1.03 billion in revenue. Consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters had called for $0.54 in EPS and revenue of $1.04 billion. The same period of last year reportedly had EPS of $2.17 and $997.5 million in revenue.

Food costs were 35.3% of revenue, primarily driven by higher avocado prices and increased expense for pre-diced tomatoes, and partially offset by relief in beef prices.

Restaurant level operating margin was 13.5% in the quarter, a decrease from 19.6% in the fourth quarter of 2015. The decrease was driven primarily by increased marketing and promotional spend, sales deleveraging and higher food costs.

Comparable restaurant sales decreased 20.2% and 1.4% in October and November 2016, respectively, and it increased 14.7% in December 2016. Comparable restaurant sales benefited from easier comparisons due to lower sales levels in November and December 2015. The company opened 72 new restaurants during the quarter, bringing the total restaurant count to 2,250.

In terms of guidance for 2017, the company expects to see comparable restaurant sales increases in the high-single digits with 195 to 210 new restaurant openings in this time as well. The consensus estimates call for $8.62 in EPS and $4.55 billion in revenue for the coming year.

Steve Ells, founder, board chair and chief executive of Chipotle, commented:

We are energized and focused to achieve our goals in 2017, and to return to a path of long-term value creation for our shareholders. Returning to our roots of what originally made Chipotle great has helped refocus all of our strategies toward the guest experience. In the upcoming year we intend to continue to simplify and improve our restaurant operations, utilize creative marketing to rebuild our brand, and further the roll-out of our digital sales efforts. All three of these strategic initiatives are centered on improving the guest experience and restoring customer affinity for the Chipotle brand, and we are confident in our teams’ abilities as we start this new year.

Shares of Chipotle were last seen down more than 3% at $408.42, with a consensus analyst price target of $392.41 and a 52-week trading range of $352.96 to $542.50.