Retail

How Cheesecake Factory Can Fix Its Downgrade Problems (CAKE)

Cheesecake Factory (CAKE-NASDAQ) is trading down more than 7% to $24.80 on almost triple its normal volume after multiple analyst downgrades based upon comments from a growth conference.  Yesterday, at a William Blair Growth Conference, Cheesecake Factory said second-quarter revenue would increase by 14.5% to 15.5%, implying sales of $369.4 million to $372.6 million.  The problem is that analysts’ consensus forecast is $378.9 million, according to First Call.

This morning Bear Stearns downgraded shares from ‘Outperform’ to ‘Peer Perform’ because higher dairy costs won’t be fully offset by higher menu prices.  Raymond James also downgraded shares from a ‘Strong Buy’ to an ‘Outperform’ rating.  CIBC World Markets also cuts its ‘Sector Outperform’ rating to a lower ‘Sector Perform’ rating, and Robert W. Baird maintained a ‘Neutral’ rating but trimmed earnings estimates.  Back on June 8, shares fell after FBR removed the company from its ‘Top Pick list’ of stocks.  On June 1, shares were trading at $28.39.

Part of the problem is that the food chain is not really in the middle of the road dining establishments and it isn’t really considered ultra-fine or upscale dining.  It’s above the Darden (DRI-NYSE) and Brinker (EAT-NYSE) restaurant chains, and below the high-end steakhouses like Ruth’s Chris (RUTH-NASDAQ).  So what can the company do to offset higher dairy costs and higher food costs?  The company operates ‘The Cheesecake Factory’ and ‘Grand Lux Cafe’ restaurants and if you have been to either of these you will know what I mean when I say “Beltbuster servings” and “To-Go Leftovers.”  The portions here are gi-normous where most appetizers can be entrees and entrees can be split.  Higher prices were already indicated as an offset to higher dairy prices, but the company can easily cut down the portions by as little as 5%.  Food cost cuts in a restaurant add right to the bottom line if they aren’t noticed, and the company doesn’t even have to announce they are trimming the sizes if it is by this little.  Most consumers will say this is foodie-sacrilege, but at this operator it will never be missed.

As a reminder, this is a stock that Jim Cramer also said in April could be a target of private equity or a management-endorsed buyout.

Jon C. Ogg
June 21, 2007

Jon Ogg can be reached at jonogg@247wallst.com; he does not own securities in any of the companies he covers.