Ahead of the Bell: Chipotle

Chipotle shares rise in premarket trading after sales gains

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- With Chipotle sales rising, investors can think about whether its share price should, too.

Sales at the burrito restaurant's established locations jumped 9.3 percent in the final three months of the year. That's a key metric because it strips out the volatility of newly opened and closed locations.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. shares jumped $58.17, or almost 12 percent, to $552.13 in premarket trading. If that price carries over into regular trading, it would be a new 52-week high. The stock has already risen about 60 percent in the past year.

Chipotle also said it expects sales in established locations to rise in the low- to mid-single digits for the year, which would be higher than its previous forecast. Sales could rise further if it raises prices, an option that it said it is weighing.

Chipotle also reported quarterly profit and revenue on Thursday that beat analyst expectations. Net income jumped almost 30 percent to $79.6 million.

Jefferies analyst Andy Barish, who has a "hold" rating on the stock, noted that Chipotle had a strong holiday season despite winter weather and slower traffic to most retailers. He also wrote that Chipotle has shown it can boost marketing spending if traffic declines.

But he also noted that Chipotle faces higher prices for ingredients including avocados and beef, and that higher minimum wage laws, especially in California, could boost costs. He has a $500 price target for the company.

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