El Pollo Loco Chokes on Guidance

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El Pollo Loco Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ: LOCO) reported fourth quarter financial results after markets closed on Thursday. The company had $0.15 in earnings per share (EPS) on $86 million in revenue compared to consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters that called for $0.13 in EPS on $88.03 million in revenue. The same period from last year had $0.14 in EPS on $89.97 million in revenue.

System-wide comparable restaurant sales grew 1.8%, including a 1.0% increase for company-operated restaurants, and a 2.4% increase for franchised restaurants.

In terms of the outlook for the full year, the company expects to have EPS in the range of $0.70 to $0.74 and system-wide comparable sales growth in the low single digits. There are consensus estimates that call for $0.74 in EPS on $395.6 million in revenue.

On the books, cash and cash equivalents totaled $6.1 million at the end of the quarter compared to $11.5 million in the same period last year.

Steve Sather, President and CEO of El Pollo Loco, commented:

Development in the fourth quarter was robust, as we opened 11 company-operated and 3 franchised restaurants.  We expect to open 18-22 company-operated restaurants and 10-15 franchised restaurants in 2016.  The runway for growth is long, and we remain excited about the long term opportunity to bring our flame-grilled, citrus marinated chicken to customers across the country.

Shares of El Pollo Loco closed Thursday up 1.5% at $15.13, with a consensus analyst price target of $16.14 and a 52-week trading range of $9.58 to $29.20. Following the release of the earnings report, the stock was down 9% at $13.75 in the after-hours trading session.