5 Restaurant Stocks Worth a Nibble

07/27/2011 9:00 am EST


Kate Stalter

CMO & Senior Financial Advisor, Better Money Decisions

Even in tough economies, restaurants have been able to outpace many other segments of the consumer discretionary segment. Innovation has been a factor in these companies’ ability to drive their sales and earnings growth, writes MoneyShow.com contributor Kate Stalter.

Innovation is one of the hallmarks of companies that amass solid track records of earnings and price growth.

Frequently, that innovation is inherent in a new or growing industry, such as cloud computing. But it can also come from new twists in old-line industries.

Today’s top-performing restaurant stocks offer several different examples of innovation. Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) has wowed customers and investors alike with its menu of gourmet burritos and tacos made with natural ingredients.

The company also has youth in its favor. Many stocks that went public within the last ten or 12 years are among the market’s biggest price movers. Their management teams are still energetic with fresh ideas, and there’s often still plenty of room to grow market share.

Chipotle made its NYSE debut in January 2006, and is up nearly 500% since its first month of trading. Earnings growth has been decelerating, but Wall Street sees a profit of $6.82 per share this year, a gain of 21% over 2010.

The stock’s price is extended beyond its most recent buy point at $296, but it’s worth tracking to see if the next pullback offers a new entry opportunity.

We’re Lovin’ It
Innovation isn’t always found at iconic, beloved brands that also happen to be Dow components, but McDonald’s (MCD) has been doing a good job of reinventing its product offerings in recent years.

In 2007, Mickey D’s began focusing on coffee sales in a challenge to Starbucks (SBUX). By 2010, its specialty brews were among the company’s top growth drivers.

Last week, the stock rallied to an all-time high, ahead of a second-quarter report that topped Wall Street views. It gapped up 2.3% Friday following that report, only pulling back slightly this week. Analysts said free WiFi, more 24-hour restaurants, and healthier offerings are contributing to greater sales.

Profit grew at a rate of 19% in the second quarter, its best showing in five quarters. Revenue increased 16%, the best rate in two years.

McDonald’s offers the benefit of combining price growth with dividend yield, making the stock appealing to a number of investors.

NEXT: Coffee Clutch


Coffee Clutch
While McDonald’s encroached on some of Starbucks’ business in the past few years, the Seattle-based coffee retailer didn’t just sit still and take it. Constant innovation has been a theme at Starbucks, with new food items, Via instant coffee, and global expansion spurring revenue growth.

Starbucks reports its second quarter on Thursday, with analysts expecting net income of 34 cents per share on sales of $2.85 billion. In the past four quarters, Starbucks met analysts’ views twice and beat twice.

Shares have been trading in a fairly tight range since the week ended July 1, holding gains following a 7.6% price jump that week.

Baking Up a Storm
Panera Bread (PNRA) is another restaurant chain that’s focused on carving out a unique niche. It was an early adopter of free WiFi to attract customers.

In the early days of wireless service at restaurants, many chains had initially feared that computer users would just take up table space without buying much, but that didn’t happen at Panera. Earnings grew in the past three years. In fact, while numerous companies from all sectors saw a profit decline in 2009, Panera earnings increased by 25%.

After the close Tuesday, Panera reported second-quarter earnings of $1.18 per share, a penny ahead of views. Revenue also topped analysts’ expectations. The company also raised its fiscal 2011 earnings view. However, it guided for 2012 to the lower end of its growth target.

Investors may have been disappointed in the 2012 guidance, because shares fell $5.60 in after-hours trading, a loss of 4.33%, to $123.68.

If the stock continues getting support in the vicinity of its ten-week average, a bounce above that line in the coming days or weeks could provide a new technical buy point.

Hardly Winging It
Sometimes companies enjoy success despite a concept that seems tried-and-true, rather than innovative. However, good execution often wins the day.

Neither sports bars nor chicken wings are anything revolutionary, but Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings (BLWD), which went public in November 2003, has found a formula for consistent growth.

Keeping the experience fresh for customers has been a big part of the company’s secret. New recipes and careful attention to the restaurant atmosphere have drawn crowds.

Lately, its bottom line has benefited from lower chicken prices. Now that an NFL strike has been averted, that could take some pressure off shares over the coming weeks and months.

The stock is another that ran to an all-time high this month, but subsequently gave up some of its gains. Its price is holding well above the stock’s ten-week moving average, and the selling has come in diminishing trading volume. That’s a sign that professional investors are likely just taking some profits following the run-up and ahead of earnings, rather than bailing out en masse.

Buffalo Wild Wings also reported its second quarter late Tuesday, earning 58 cents per share on revenue of $184.1 million. That missed bottom-line views by two cents, but beat revenue views handily.

Shares fell 25 cents in after-hours trade, down 0.38%, to $65. Watch the stock’s trading pattern in the next few sessions to see whether it can maintain support above key moving averages following the earnings report.

This is another example of a stock that may offer up a new entry point on the dip.

The restaurant segment of the economy has surprised investors more than once in the past few years, outpacing the broader market even in times of tight consumer spending. As many of these names are expected to continue showing good earnings growth in the coming quarters, they remain good investment candidates.

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