Another subpar quarter, another drop for Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) stock.
The once red-hot fast-casual Mexican eatery just reported yet another quarter that proves one thing: this chain will not soon regain its peak 2014-15 popularity. Back then, comparable sales growth was red hot. Margins were running higher. Lines were long and stores were packed. CMG was the trend in fast casual food, and Chipotle stock was a must-own.
But then E. coli and norovirus outbreaks struck in late 2015. CMG has never recovered. Nor has Chipotle stock.
Part of it is that CMG has been unable to shake health related concerns, as the company has found itself at the center of multiple health-related outbreaks since the big E. coli outbreak in 2015. But the bigger part is just that the CMG trend is over. Consumers have moved on.
And so have investors.
But with Chipotle stock languishing around $270, I think a buying opportunity is rapidly approaching. I’m not buying yet, but any drops substantially below current levels look like a solid long-term entry point.
Chipotle Has Subway Written All Over It
The grim reality for CMG is that this company is following in the footsteps of Subway.
Subway was once was the trend in healthy fast-casual food. Cold cut sandwiches were the go-to choice for health-conscious consumers, and Subway was the leader in the cold-cut category. But then that all changed rather quickly. Consumers grew tired of cold-cut subs.
They looked for something different but still healthy, and they found the answer in Chipotle. Chipotle consequently morphed into the go-to destination for health-conscious consumers. Chipotle rose, Subway fell.
Now, a similar transition is happening, but Chipotle is on the losing side this time. Consumers have grown tired of Chipotle’s Mexican-style burritos and bowls. They’ve been looking for variety for the past several years, but unfortunately, Chipotle wasn’t able to give them that variety because management was busy dealing with the fallout from an E. coli outbreak. So consumers left, and discovered poke bowls, acai bowls, and juice bars.
Now, poke bowls and acai bowls are everywhere. And Chipotle stores are a lot less crowded than they were 2-3 years ago. Comparable sales rose 0.9% this quarter, lapping a 4.8% decrease last year and a 14.6% plunge two years ago. That means relative to 3 years ago, comparable sales at Chipotle locations are down 18.5%.
So before investors get excited about positive comps in 2018 lapping positive comps in 2017, just remember that follows a 20.4% drop in 2016. Even if comps do come in at 3% in 2018, they would be down 11% on a 3-year basis.
All in all, this is a snail-like recovery. And it will remain a snail-like recovery because Chipotle is no longer the trend in healthy fast casual. Chipotle has been replaced by poke and acai.
Why Chipotle Stock Could Be a Buy Soon
But that doesn’t mean Chipotle doesn’t have any value. There are still a ton of Subway locations out there, and they do decent business. Plus, Chipotle will likely fare better than Subway considering it has more unit growth potential.
Overall, CMG should able to grow comps around a low single digit pace over the next 5 years. Decelerating unit growth should turn those low single-digit comps into roughly 5% annualized revenue growth.
Operating margins are 6% currently and were 17% at their highs in 2014-15. Given lower unit performance, I don’t think CMG will get operating margins back to their peak. But operating margins should continue to trend up to the 12.5% range with improving unit performance.
Roughly 5% revenue growth per year over the next 5 years puts 2022 revenues at $5.7 billion. A 12.5% operating margin puts operating profits at right around $715 million. After a 21% tax rate and on roughly 28 million shares out, that equates to around $20.15 in earnings per share.
At that point in time, earnings growth will likely look like 5% (flattish comps with some unit growth, but not much margin expansion). McDonald’s Corporation (NYSE:MCD) is currently trading at 22-times forward earnings for long-term earnings growth of 8.5%. Consequently, the CMG in 2022 with a 5% long-term earnings growth rate should trade around 20-times forward earnings.
A 20-times forward multiple on $20.15 implies a year-end 2021 price target of just over $400. Discounting that back by 10% per year, you get to a present value of $275.
Bottom Line on CMG Stock
Chipotle stock is finally appropriately priced considering its snail-like recovery and relatively muted long-term growth prospects. I think the fair value on Chipotle stock is about $275.
I’m a buyer at a discount to that fair value. Consequently, I think Chipotle stock starts to look appetizing at levels below $270.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long MCD.