The Exchange

Chipotle Stock Should Be North of $400: Analyst

Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) got a new price target from Wall Street that's 19% higher than its last close, giving the burrito chain a lift early Wednesday.

Sterne Agee put a $429 price target and a buy rating on the shares of the Denver-based restaurant operator. That's the second-highest target among analysts who follow the company, and it effectively means the firm believes Chipotle should head back toward its best trading level ever.

The average price from analysts is $376.40, according to FactSet. It has finished above $429 only three times, all in April 2012. The stock's all-time closing high came that month, when it ended at $440.40. Recently, Chipotle was up 1.7% at $365.13.

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Chipotle restaurants

Source: Chipotle.

Formerly majority held by McDonald's (MCD), Chipotle has been a stellar stock for most of its public history that dates back to early 2006. Between late 2008 and the spring of last year, it grew 10-fold. The run came as it expanded and as traditional fast-food buyers became more interested in higher-end "fast casual" shops that either implied or promised diners better-quality fare than much of what was available.

However, the past 16 months have been rocky. In July, a revenue disappointment started the stock reeling, ultimately setting Chipotle on a path to its 52-week low at $233.82. Since then, it has rebounded by around 55%.

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Chipotle stock

Source: Yahoo! Finance. Five-year stock chart.

Not everyone's impressed though with the company's prospects or its made-to-your-specifications meals. Chipotle has been marked as a prominent short opportunity by two well-known investors in recent months, Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn and Doubleline Capital's Jeffrey Gundlach; at the end of May, shares totaling 11.8% of its float were sold short.

[Related: Five Retailers Exciting Consumers, Inflaming Skeptics]

Notably, Chipotle still does carry a premium valuation, with a forward multiple that surpasses similar operators. At 30.8, it exceeds Einstein Noah's (BAGL) 14.1, Starbucks' (SBUX) 25.8 and Panera Bread's (PNRA) 23.7.

That said, its 20.3% five-year compound annual growth rate in sales and its 31.6% pace in net income beat that competing trio. This year, analysts are looking for sales of $3.17 billion from Chipotle, up 16.1% from 2012.

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