An Even Stronger Turnaround Analyst Call for Chipotle

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It seems like not even bad news lasts forever. After having recovered from the scandals around making its customers ill, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG) has been on fire. Its shares have recovered so much that it is even hard to call it a turnaround stock any longer.

According to independent research firm Argus, Chipotle has a lot more room to grow and to keep rewarding shareholders. John Staszak, the analyst covering Chipotle for Argus, reiterated his Buy rating and raised his price target to $770 from $670.

Chipotle shares were trading at $665.79 ahead of this call. If Straszak is right, that’s more than 15% more upside.

Before only looking at the upside implications here, investors and traders alike should consider that Chipotle has more than recovered. The stock is up about 120% from its 52-week low, and it’s up over 55% from the ending 2018 price of $431.79.

The driving force for Chipotle in this analyst call is the expectation that new CEO Brian Niccol, who formerly ran Taco Bell, will strengthen the company’s menu offerings and marketing program. Straszak noted that Chipotle is working to reestablish its formerly strong brand in the wake of food safety issues and also is looking to improve its customers’ experience via online orders and mobile payments.

Argus raised its 2019 earnings estimate to $12.60 from $12.50 per share and raised its 2020 estimate to $15.70 from $15.00 per share. The report said:

We believe that the current Chipotle share price inadequately reflects prospects for accelerating same-store sales and earnings growth as the company continues its multiyear recovery. Our new target price of $770 implies a potential return of 16% from current levels.

Straszak has a Buy rating for the near term and the long term. He further noted:

As Chipotle pares back its restaurant expansion plans, we expect it to reestablish its formerly strong brand. We also like the company’s efforts to improve the customer experience through online ordering and mobile payments, and to create separate lines for catering, deliveries and digital orders… We remain confident that Chipotle can achieve its long-term goals of mid-single-digit comps, high single-digit revenue growth, and mid-teens operating margins.

Chipotle recently showed that its fourth-quarter revenues rose 10.4% year over year to $1.23 billion with a 6.1% same-store gain. The company also opened 40 new restaurants to get its store count to 2,503. Those stronger than expected same-store sales gains were boosted by a 66% increase in digital orders, and that now accounts for almost 13% of total revenues and was up about two full percentage points from the prior quarter alone.

For all of 2018, revenue rose 9% to $4.9 billion, with a 4% gain in same-store sales and with 137 new stores. Chipotle has been slowing its pace of store growth as it had 183 openings in 2017. It also announced a recent $100 million share buyback plan.

Getting to a $770 valuation is roughly $100 higher than the current share price. It is important to consider that the gains have outpaced analyst expectations and that the sell-side consensus price target from Refinitiv (Thomson Reuters) was last seen down at $557.25. To justify this new price target, the Argus report concluded:

We believe that the Chipotle share price inadequately reflects prospects for accelerating same-store sales and earnings growth as the company continues its multiyear recovery. The shares are trading at 52.8-times our revised 2019 EPS estimate, near the midpoint of the 10-year annual average range of 16-76. Based on the company’s improving prospects, we believe that the stock merits a multiple in the upper half of this range. Our new target price of $770 implies a multiple of 61.1-times our revised 2019 estimate, and a potential return of 16% from current levels.

Chipotle shares were last seen trading up 1.3% at $674.30. Chipotle shares peaked close to $750 back in the summer of 2015.

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