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CMG reported EPS of $2.35 ($2.45 including tax refund) up 19% on a 13.4% increase in revenues and 1% in same store sales. The big upside to estimates ($0.20) came from G&A savings (lapping 1x costs & lower stock comp expenses) and $0.10 in tax credits.  

Sales Trends

The comp was driven by traffic of +0.7% and a 0.3% increase in average check (mix was negative due to fewer drink sales).  Same-store sales were impacted by two fewer trading days, compared to last year, as the restaurants were closed on Easter and due to leap day in 2012. As a result the underlying same-store sales were closer to 3%.  On a two-year basis, same-store sales declined from 7.5% in 4Q12 to 6.9% in 1Q13.  Management maintained the flat to low-single digit same store sales guidance for 2013.  The forward looking commentary on sales trends in April did not provide much insight into overall industry trends.

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Margin Trends

Overall food costs came in slightly better than expected.  Food costs were 33% in 1Q13, up 80 bps YoY, but sequentially food costs were down 50bps from 4Q12 due to lower avocado and dairy costs.  CMG was surprisingly able to leverage some labor on a 1% same store sales.  Labor costs were 23.6%, down 10bps YoY.  The leverage was driven by higher menu prices and some labor efficiencies.  Overall, restaurant-level margins declined 100bps YoY.

Sales Drivers

Looking ahead, CMG plans to continue rolling out catering (should help mix) as well as spend on enhanced traffic-driving

and brand building marketing initiatives.  The street is modeling to 4% for 2013, which is above management guidance and an acceleration from the current 3% implied run rate. 

Conclusion

Overall, CMG’s fundamentals remain unchanged.  Restaurant-level margins will likely trend lower on low single-digit same-store sales.   Catering will not be a big driver of same-store sales in 2013 and we see the company reluctance to take addition price is telling and they are concerned about their ability to take price.  The $700 million in cash and debt few balance sheet is a potential weapon that would make me nervous if I was short this stock.   

The company’s growth rate, margin structure, returns profile and cash position are all supportive of the 30x P/E multiple.   We would like to see the stock come in from the current levels to get long.

Howard Penney

Managing Director

Rory Green

Senior Analyst