3 Analysts Are Warming Up to Chipotle Stock

By Rick Munarriz Markets Fool.com

Wall Street is rallying behind Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG)ahead of next week's earnings report. Analysts at Maxim and OTR Global put out bullish updates on Wednesday, a day after Wells Fargo boosted its valuation range on the stock. Three positive analyst moves just a few trading days before a critical earnings report is an encouraging sign.

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Stephen Anderson at Maxim boosted his price target from $390 to $430 on Wednesday. Anyone pulling up a current stock quote will realize that $430 isn't necessarily a bullish call. The stock closed at $468.51 on Tuesday. However, for Anderson, a Wall Street pro who's neutral on the stock, $430 is a lot more comforting as a price goal than anything below $400.

Anderson is now forecasting a blowout quarter out of Chipotle next week. He sees a profit of $1.74 a share, higher than all of the more than 30 analysts putting out net income projections for the period. Wall Street's consensus is a mere $1.27 a share.

Anderson is also targeting comps of 18.5%, ahead of the same-restaurant-sales growth average forecast that's closer to 15.5%. One would expect that a bullish view of next week's report would be accompanied with a bullish stock market call, but he's sticking to his hold rating. He feels that the stock has already priced in a recovery, soaring 33% since bottoming out in November. However, with neutral analysts like Anderson, who needs bulls?

Image source: Chipotle.

Optimism at an opportunistic time

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There are plenty of bulls on Chipotle, despite the rough go that the chain has had since the outbreak of food-borne illnesses slammed the brand in late 2015. Maxim's Anderson may have a ho-hum outlook for the stock's prognosis this year, but other Wall Street pros feel that the stock is moving higher.

OTR Global upgraded the stock on Wednesday, taking its rating from mixed to positive. OTR Global's move comes after channel checks with Chipotle suppliers found a healthy uptick in orders since last year.

To be fair, anything will be better than last year's first quarter. It was the first, and thankfully only, time that Chipotle announced a quarterly loss. Revenue plummeted 23% as opening new locations was no match for the brutal 30% plunge in comps.

As impressive as a 15.5% uptick in comparable-restaurant sales may sound for this year's first quarter, it still finds unit-level sales well below where they were two years earlier. Bulls still shouldn't look a gift upgrade in the mouth. It's promising that OTR Global is jacking up its stock rating less than a week before the report.

Wells Fargo's move on Tuesday was to boost its valuation range for the stock from $450 to $470 to between $495 and $515. Wells Fargo is also expecting a better-than-expected report out of Chipotle. An important nugget in Wells Fargo's bullish update is that it sees the positive trends during the first quarter still in play by mid-April, opening the door for Chipotle to boost its full-year outlook. With consumer spending on the rise and Chipotle's recent digital initiatives starting to pay off, Wells Fargo is sticking to its outperform rating on the stock.

All three analyst moves this week are positive, and the timing is even better, with quarterly results waiting just around the corner.

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Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.