Does ShopHouse Justify Chipotle’s Valuation?

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After its price finally came down to earth in late 2012 (falling to under $250 from over $400 per share), shares of quick-serve burrito restaurant Chipotle (NYSE: CMG) have rocketed back toward the $400 level. Shares have jumped 23% year-to-date, even though the company’s same-store sales growth totaled just 1% in the first quarter. Shares now trade at a premium to Valuentum's fair value estimate ($338 per share is the high end of Valuentum's fair value range).

With comparable store sales growth slowing, Chipotle most rely on new-restaurant expansion to drive revenue growth. Luckily, increasing the store count hasn’t been an issue thus far, and the firm remains on track to open 160-180 new restaurants this year alone. Still, total revenue increased just 13.4% year-over-year during the first quarter, and it appears as though the company’s revenue growth rate will fall to the mid-teens during 2013.

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Source: Chipotle

Other cracks are beginning to form in the Chipotle story. Fierce competition from Yum's Taco Bell appears to be slowing Chipotle’s pace of market-share expansion. With lower-priced substitutes available, Chipotle doesn't have much room to raise prices—which should further stall same-store sales growth and limit margin expansion. Additionally, Valuentum believes the incremental sales growth from new store openings will begin to cannibalize existing locations (decreasing the marginal benefits of new stores to the firm’s top and bottom lines). 

ShopHouse begins to expand… 

Enter ShopHouse, Chipotle’s take on Southeastern Asian cuisine. The company’s current location in Washington, D.C. will be joined by two new stores in California over the summer, as well as a location in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood. The concept receives mostly positive reviews thus far (according to Yelp), and as we can tell from the image below, it is Chipotle-inspired.

Not surprisingly, the concept has started out slow, as it should: we’d be disappointed in a large nationwide roll-out of a concept that consumers aren’t crazy about. If Ron Johnson tested his JC Penney changes, he might still have a job. From what we’ve gathered, we think the concept could be a hit. At the moment, there isn’t much healthy Asian-inspired fast-food available in the United States, so ShopHouse fills a void in the marketplace.

The expansion isn’t a slam-dunk…

Even though we like the idea, we do not believe the concept justifies Chipotle’s premium valuation. For one, the restaurant is still in its very early stages. The potential for blockbuster success is there, but fast-food is a crowded, uber-competitive space. And it’s certainly feasible that ShopHouse’s market potential could be significantly smaller than Chipotle’s market potential.

Additionally, we think Chipotle is fostering a competitor with its ShopHouse concept. Both restaurants will be fighting for middle-class lunch and dinner dollars in the same price-range, with a similar experience. We doubt it will be a zero-sum game, but we think ShopHouse could eat into the core Chipotle business, to a certain degree.

Finally, the logistics of running two separate fast-food restaurants is difficult. Just a few years ago, Chipotle was owned by McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD), which has also owned Boston Market, Aroma Café, Donatos Pizza, and a stake in Pret-A-Manger. McDonald’s divested all of these properties over the years, and it seems that focusing on different concepts can distract from the core business. Of course, Yum! has largely been able to avoid this issue, but it has rid itself of non-core assets in the past few years as well. Further, McDonald's same-store sales growth has been largely disappointing over the past year. Still, the very last thing Chipotle’s management team should do is divert too much attention from its cash cow.

Valuentum’s Take

Although Valuentum likes the ShopHouse concept, it carries several operational risks without the necessary benefit to justify Chipotle’s current valuation. In Valuentum's view, Chipotle makes a wonderful product, and we assume ShopHouse’s take on Asian is comparably good.

Nevertheless, Valuentum can’t help but think the firm’s current valuation looks out-of-whack with fundamentals. Growth is clearly slowing, and the days of 20%+ revenue expansion appear to be over. We are exploring opening a bearish position on Chipotle in the portfolio of our Best Ideas Newsletter. For Motley Fool's take on Chipotle, take our Special Report below.

Chipotle's stock has been on an absolute tear since the company went public in 2006. Unfortunately, 2012 hasn’t been kind to Chipotle’s stock, as investors question whether its growth has come to an end. Fool analyst Jason Moser’s premium research report analyzes the burrito maker’s situation and answers the question investors are asking: Can Chipotle still grow? If you own or are considering owning shares in Chipotle, you’ll want to click here now and get started! 

RJ Towner has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill and McDonald's. The Motley Fool owns shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill and McDonald's. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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