Papa John's Starting To Sizzle

By Glenn Curtis | July 02, 2009 AAA

Regardless of how healthy we try to be, every once in a while that hunger strikes and the craving for a Big Mac and a shake takes over. For most of us, the urge to pick up a burger, taco or, in this case, pizza is pretty strong. And one of the hottest pizza places right now is Papa John's (Nasdaq:PZZA). Of course, Louisville-based Papa John's isn't just attractive from the perspective of a perspective as a hungry consumer. In fact, from an investment perspective it looks like some good eating too.

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The Intrigue
The company has a great name, a big and enviable footprint and, no matter how you slice it, the demand for that heavenly invention we call pizza is here to stay. Digging a bit deeper though, the earnings estimate for this year has trended upward from $1.39 a share 60 days ago to its current $1.47. Of course, it'll be even better and more crucial for it to hit that number. But the estimates seem to be headed in the right direction.

From a price-to-expected earnings perspective, it seems like a decent deal too. It trades at about 14-times the current 2010 estimate. That's not bad, given that it's expected to grow at 10% per annum in the next five years, according to data on Yahoo! Finance. Of course, we can't sleight Dominos Pizza (NYSE:DPZ). It trades at about 8.5 times the 2010 estimate of 91 cents - cheaper than Papa Johns! As a reference, McDonalds (NYSE:MCD), which tends to garner a great deal of attention (when the topic of fast food comes up) for obvious reasons, trades at about 13.7 times the 2010 estimate. It's expected to grow about 9% per annum in the next five years, according to data on Yahoo! Finance.

Another intriguing tidbit is that according to its first quarter earnings release: "The company repurchased 275,000 shares of its common stock at an average price of $18.05 per share." That's not something that it would have done if it didn't think the stock was a reasonable value. Remember, there are probably lots of other things it probably could have done with that dough. Also, data shows that it's managed to beat out estimates in the last two quarters. While this is no guarantee that it'll slice past expectations down the line, it's an attractive feature that deserves a mention. (To learn more, see Surprise Earnings Results.)

Finally, there's been some fairly recent insider buying. According to data on Yahoo! Finance, in May a director, Alex Smith bought 3,500 shares. That's a fair amount of money he laid out. The price he reportedly paid per Yahoo Finance: $28.40 a share.

The Bottom Line
In the middle of the fast-food shuffle, where McDonalds is still king, Papa John's shows a lot of promise as a good buy. The shares would be more fairly valued around the $30 level. (For more, check out Sinking Your Teeth Into Restaurant Stocks.)

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