Why Sonic Sales Don't Taste Right to Investors

Investors appear to be less than impressed with the taste of earnings that Sonic Corp. (NASDAQ: SONC) gave them on Tuesday morning. The company announced systemwide same-store sales (SSS) for its fiscal 2015 of 7.3%. SSS growth reflected an increase of roughly 6.9% at company drive-ins and a 7.3% increase at franchise drive-ins for its year fiscal year that ended in August 2015.

As for the fiscal fourth quarter, Sonic also announced that systemwide SSS for the period increased about 4.9%. The breakdown of SSS growth in the quarter was approximately 4.5% at company drive-ins and approximately 4.9% at franchise drive-ins.

Cliff Hudson, CEO of Sonic Corp, commented on the sales:

Fiscal 2015 was a great year for our business and brand. Our multiple initiatives focused on product innovation, multi-day part promotions and effective media, all of which drove annual same-store sales growth of 7.3%. This is particularly noteworthy given our strong performance in fiscal 2014. We also completed $124 million of share repurchases and initiated a quarterly dividend building shareholder value.

Despite the potential impact from the macroeconomic environment, Sonic expects its initiatives to drive 14% to 18% earnings per share (EPS) growth for fiscal 2016. The consensus EPS estimate for 2016 from Thomson Reuters is $1.26.

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The company also sees its outlook for the fiscal 2016 year as 2% to 4% in SSS growth, 50 to 60 new franchise drive-in openings and the planned repurchase of $126 million of stock across the fiscal year.

Hudson continued:

Over the past five years we have driven consistent, positive same-store sales and solid earnings per share growth through our multi-layered growth strategy, which incorporates same-store sales growth, operating leverage, deployment of free cash, increasing royalty revenues and new drive-in development. We are especially pleased that we have repurchased more than $270 million of outstanding shares since fiscal 2011, representing over 25% of our outstanding shares in that time period. Looking forward, we believe our growth strategy with multiple sales and profit initiatives complemented by new unit growth and our robust share repurchase program and dividends will continue to optimize shareholder value and drive double-digit earnings per share in the near term and long term.

Sonic will release its formal fourth-quarter and fiscal 2015 earnings report on Monday October 19, 2015.

Shares of Sonic were down 8.5% at $25.28 Tuesday morning. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $36.36 and a 52-week trading range of $21.25 to $36.73.

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