Why Morgan Stanley Thinks Chipotle May Have Years of Caution

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Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG) is about a week away from reporting its second-quarter financial results, and the company hopes that they will signal a turnaround. However, not everyone is overly positive on this burrito chain, especially considering a practically nonexistent recovery from its E. coli outbreak.

Ahead of these earnings, one key analyst offered an opinion on Chipotle, and unsurprisingly it was a far cry from positive. Morgan Stanley downgraded Chipotle to an Equal Weight rating from Overweight and slashed the price target to $405 from $500 (versus a $417.98 prior close).

Previously, Morgan Stanley was bullish on Chipotle through the past year’s turmoil, hoping the restaurant chain could quickly get past it. But after nearly three years in the bull camp, Morgan Stanley gave up that case. This change of opinion was based on new evidence that the sales recovery will remain more protracted than the market believes.

Furthermore, the firm believes that it also might end up being more costly, considering Chipotle’s increased advertising to lure consumers back. Also, the company initiatives that involve giving out free meals and rewards plans can further add to the costs.

In the eyes of Morgan Stanley, getting back to prior sales highs could be a multiyear journey, as the firm’s survey found that roughly a quarter of Chipotle’s customers either have stopped going or reduced their frequency — even six months after the last reported food-safety incident.

In July alone, a few other analysts shared opinions on Chipotle as well:

  • Nomura reiterated a Hold rating.
  • BMO Capital Markets reiterated an Outperform rating with a $550 price target.
  • Jefferies reiterated a Sell rating.
  • Sanford Bernstein reiterated a Buy rating with a $730 price target.

In terms of the earnings report coming up on Thursday, July 21, the consensus estimates are calling for $0.92 in earnings per share (EPS) on $1.05 billion in revenue. In the same period of last year, the company posted EPS of $4.45 and revenue of $1.2 billion.

If we look at the stock’s performance in this time as well, in just 2016 alone, Chipotle is down about 15%, while over the past 52 weeks the number gets closer to 40%.

Shares of Chipotle were trading down about 2% at $404.86 on Friday’s close, with a consensus analyst price target of $459.54 and a 52-week trading range of $384.77 to $758.61.

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