Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Upgraded Ahead Of Earnings

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Upgraded Ahead Of Earnings
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Chipotle Mexican Grill is scheduled to release its next earnings report on April 26, and the fast casual dining chain’s stock moved higher today following a key upgrade. Consensus estimates suggest losses of 82 cents per share and $876.83 million in revenue for the first quarter.

JPMorgan analysts see more upside than downside at this point, following what’s been months of dealing with multiple cases of foodborne illnesses. In the same report in which they explained their upgrade of Chipotle, they also said the company’s food safety problems likely cost it three years of earnings growth.

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Why upgrade Chipotle Mexican Grill?

JPMorgan analyst John Ivankoe and team upgraded Chipotle Mexican Grill from Neutral to Overweight and set their price target at $510 per share, which is up from their previous target of $465. The company’s stock rose 2.11% to $454.05 per share in afternoon trades following this morning’s upgrade note.

Ivankoe believes Chipotle’s comparable restaurant sales will increase sequentially off their bottoms in the first quarter and that now is the time to shift focus away from the food safety issues and toward recovering earnings. He expects fiscal 2017 earnings to be close to where they were in fiscal 2014 because he estimates that the food safety problems cost Chipotle three years of earnings growth. Starting in fiscal 2018 and beyond, he sees earnings growth of more than 20%, and he doesn’t think the company’s current stock price reflects this.

Turning things around at Chipotle Mexican Grill

The JPMorgan team expects sequential comparable restaurant sales growth to turn positive in the fourth quarter after bottoming in the first quarter and improving steadily throughout this year. Last month they tumbled 26%. However, JPMorgan analysts also note that Chipotle Mexican Grill still faces near-term challenges, and they project a 15% decline in comparable restaurant sales in the second quarter, which is still a vast improvement from the 27.9% decline expected in the first quarter.

Ivankoe and team notes that Chipotle management has been offering a mobile buy one get one offer this month, which offers a free Izze drink and entree with the purchase of an entree through April 28. They believe the promotion may be coming from the fast casual chain’s weak position and could be the result of worse than expected traffic. Management also indicated that they may do more if they don’t start seeing the amount of traffic they want to see.

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