Stifel analyst bullish on restaurant industry

Stifel analyst says tastier times are ahead for much of restaurant sector

Associated Press

Stifel analyst Paul Westra sees tastier times ahead this year for the restaurant industry.

He believes the sector will generate more sales and be increasingly profitable and over the next few years.

In a research note, the analyst said restaurants suffered their own "mini-recession" from February of 2012 through February of 2013, as unemployment remained high and other concerns weighed on consumers' willingness to spend at restaurants, such as fluctuating gas prices and lower take-home pay due to higher taxes.

The analyst said that key sales measures were at their lowest in 2013 for the restaurant industry mini-recession and are already in recovery, which should continue improve through the year.

He's optimistic about fast, casual restaurant chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Panera Bread Co. and privately held Smashburger, which have popular products, quick service and a lower price than sit-down restaurant peers.

He also believes that some sit-down restaurant chains, including Cheesecake Factory Inc., BJ's Restaurants Inc. and others, also appeal to customers.

He labeled BJ's Restaurants and Cheesecake Factory with "Buy" ratings, while assigning Chipotle and Panera "Hold" ratings. He said strong growth prospects at Chipotle and Panera are already reflected in their stock prices.

Shares of the companies were mixed following the report.

Chipotle's shares fell nearly 2 percent in afternoon trading to $377.42, outpacing a broader market decline. Panera shares fell 58 cents to $188.82, Cheesecake Factory's shares dipped 15 cents to $43.92 and shares of BJ's Restaurants dipped 2 cents to $39.66.

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