Everything keeps rolling Chipotle Mexican Grill's (NYSE: CMG) way. Another bullish analyst note was pushing the shares to fresh multiyear highs on Wednesday, but one of the hottest stocks over the past year is still not where it used to be.
Chipotle stock peaked at $758.61 in the summer of 2015. Despite more than doubling over the past year -- and up 138% since the start of last year -- the stock still is another 10% gain away from setting a new lifetime high-water mark. A 10% move after the stock's torrid run over the past year may seem as easy as speckling rice with cilantro, but hold up on the confetti launchers. Let's go over a few things that may keep the stock in check in the near term.
Image source: Chipotle Mexican Grill.
1. Big gains are driving analyst updates
David Tarantino at Baird bumped his price target from $650 to $760 on Wednesday, and he's not alone up there. Argus analyst John Staszak lifted his price goal on Chipotle from $670 to what is now a Street-high $770 last week. These are the first two Wall Street pros with price targets that would place Chipotle shares at all-time highs.
The problem with the updates is that they are largely reacting to the stock's big gains over the past year, lifting their price targets to sustain their bullish ratings. Staszak did lift his bottom-line forecasts higher in last week's move. He boosted his 2019 earnings estimate by 0.8% and his 2020 projected profit by less than 5%. Is this really worth a 15% boost in his price target? This week, Tarantino is basing his bullish revision on expectations for strong operating momentum at the chain, but that doesn't necessarily justify the stock more than doubling over the past year. Like some barbacoa slipping into a sofritas container, the meat here is a mistake.
2. We're far away from peak Chipotle
Chipotle is much larger than it was when its stock was hitting all-time highs, but unit-level sales are still well below where they were when the chain was in its prime and the queues snaked all the way to the front door. Even last year -- with comps rising 4% relative to 2017 -- the average location rang up fewer sales in 2018 than it did a year earlier. The transactions-per-store metric finally turned positive in the fourth quarter, but we still don't know if it's a fluke.
Annual revenue finally overtook its 2015 peak in 2018, but this is with hundreds more locations open. Margins have taken a beating, and Chipotle's profit last year was a little more than half of what it posted in 2015. Analysts don't see Chipotle topping its 2015 profit until 2020, and -- again -- it will be on much lower margins now that the chain isn't as unique as it was in its glory years.
3. Chipotle Rewards may not be enough
It took too long for Chipotle to finally roll out its loyalty rewards program, and Chipotle Rewards doesn't seem like a winner. You have to spend as much as $125 on food to get a free entree, and that's only going to appeal to the diehard burrito buffs that were going to keep coming anyway.
Chipotle Rewards may have grabbed a million members in its first week of availability, but that's the byproduct of giving everyone that signs up free chips and guac and a promotional one-time cash giveaway through Venmo. Chipotle will have to prove that folks are using the platform beyond an easy way to score an initial freebie.
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