In early April, MTY Food Group acquired pizza chain Papa Murphy’s (NASDAQ:FRSH) at a huge premium. It was big news for FRSH stock, which popped more than 30% to the acquisition price. But, the news was largely a non-event for other pizza stocks, since most market observers chalked up the acquisition as a one-off, and didn’t extrapolate much by the way of M&A potential to other pizza stocks.
Nonetheless, it’s interesting to note that of the top 10 pizza chains in America, four of them have been acquired over the past eight years (Papa Murphy’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Round Table Pizza and Cicis). That’s a sky-high 40% acquisition rate for America’s largest pizza chains.
Thus, while investors maybe shouldn’t directly extrapolate the Papa Murphy’s acquisition to other pizza stocks, they should be aware that certain pizza stocks do have high M&A potential. From this perspective, let’s take a closer look at four pizza stocks that are on M&A watch.
Papa John’s (PZZA)
Of all the publicly traded pizza stocks, the most likely to be an acquisition target in 2019 is Papa John’s (NASDAQ:PZZA).
Papa John’s has had some serious struggles over the past few years, as a lack of innovation coupled with bad press from Papa John himself has created a drag on sales, margins and profits. That’s why PZZA stock has been on a multi-year decline.
But, the stock is now dirt cheap, at 1.4-times enterprise value-to-sales. Interestingly enough, that’s roughly the level where Papa Murphy’s was acquired at. It’s also the lowest multiple left among publicly traded pizza stocks. Plus, the board room drama with Papa John is over, NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal has been added to the board, and there’s reason to believe a brand turnaround is coming soon.
As such, if I were a private equity firm, now would be a really good time to take a bite out of PZZA stock.
RAVE Restaurant Group (RAVE)
The second most likely pizza chain to be acquired in the foreseeable future is RAVE Restaurant Group (NASDAQ:RAVE).
Dallas-based RAVE Restaurant Group owns and operates two pizza chains, Pizza Inn and Pie Five Pizza. In total, the company’s pizza chain footprint measures around 270 locations all across the world. Only one of those stores is company-owned. The rest are licensed. This asset-light business model should ultimately prove attractive to a potential buyer.
On top of a license-heavy model, operations at RAVE aren’t bad (comparable sales were mildly positive last quarter), margins are an issue but improving, and the stock is pretty cheap at 2-times enterprise value-to-sales. As such, if a buyer thinks they can come in and cut costs without dramatically impacting sales to produce sizable profits, then RAVE stock could fetch a big offer in the foreseeable future.
Domino’s Pizza (DPZ)
The hottest pizza stock over the past several years has been Domino’s Pizza (NYSE:DPZ).
Much unlike its peers on this list, Domino’s has leveraged technology integration and menu innovation to drive consistently positive comparable sales growth. This has led to healthy revenue growth, strong margin expansion and robust profit growth. That’s why DPZ stock has rallied 250% over the past five years.
But, the stock is no longer that cheap at 4.2-times enterprise value-to-sales. Plus, given recent out-performance, investors would require a huge premium to even consider a takeover offer. That would imply an offer somewhere around $15 to $20 billion. That’s a bit steep as far as pizza chain M&A is concerned.
All in all, then, DPZ is a winning stock. But, the likelihood this company is acquired in the foreseeable is very low.
YUM! Brands (YUM)
Falling in the same boat of winning pizza stock but unlikely M&A candidate is Pizza Hut, which is already owned by YUM! Brands (NYSE:YUM).
After Domino’s, the second most successful pizza chain over the past several years has been Pizza Hut. The chain struggled for a while, but recently has been getting its groove back amid a series of operational improvements, including store remodels, menu innovations and distinct marketing. The sum of these initiatives powered flat comparable sales growth last quarter and last year, and current trends imply that positive growth is due next year.
That means YUM stock should go higher from here. But, it also means that the likelihood of YUM getting a takeover offer are next to zero. This is a $30 billion-plus company trading at 7-times enterprise value-to-sales. No buyer is interested in that. As such, when it comes to M&A upside in pizza stocks, YUM stock has very little.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long DPZ.