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Tickers in this Article: CMG, MCD, PNRA, SBUX, YUM
Americans remain cautious in its spending, apparently except when it comes to lunch. If you are in doubt, check out the earnings and other upbeat news being generated by some of America's top eateries.

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Half Baked or Just Right?
Panera Bread (Nasdaq:PNRA) has done very well by its shareholders recently. A quick look at a chart shows the stock has gone from the $50 range back in 2009 to more than $80 today. The company comes to mind because early on Wednesday it disseminated a release in which it raised its 2010 outlook to $3.40 to $3.44 - that's up from $3.26 to $3.34. Some things stand out about that.

First, the fact that its management was ready and willing to go out on such a limb so early in the year is a good sign. Also, in the days ahead it would be reasonable to expect sell side analysts could be bumping up its full-year estimates, which in turn could draw attention and ultimately interest in PNRA shares. (For more on analyst expectations, be sure to read Analyst Forecasts Spell Disaster For Some Stocks.)

Finally, in Q1, company-owned comparable bakery-cafe sales increased 10%. That is a big jump. There are a couple of caveats though, and despite the numerous positives, the stock is expensive on a price to expected earnings basis. It trades at about 24.4-times the upper end of management's outlook. Moreover, with chains that offer similar fare or that might be considered competitors like Starbucks (Nadsaq:SBUX) doing everything in their power (like coming out with a new instant coffee, Via) to drag individuals through their doors, and more traditional sit down service restaurants couponing, it stands to reason that it could ultimately face headwinds at some point and that the comps may not always be so rosy.

Well Done!
McDonalds (NYSE:MCD) served up a well done first quarter on Wednesday. The chain, known for its value meals, tasty burgers and emergence as a force in coffee, earned $1 per diluted share, which was interesting, because analysts had been looking for 96 cents. While ideally it would be nice to see a better performance in the U.S. (comps were up just 1.5%) it's hard not to be optimistic on the company's chances and the stock's chances in both the near and longer run. Overall, it's got the marketing strength, product quality and broad footprint to maintain its position, pun intended, atop the food chain. Its recent earnings performance and dominance in this space lend to the belief that the $4.44 estimate that's out there for this year will end up very doable.

Yum! (NYSE:YUM), known for Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell released its first quarter earnings last week. In the period, the company earned a healthy 59 cents excluding items, which was 6 cents better than expected. If it can continue to beat expectations quarter after quarter as it has been doing, there could be tremendous upside potential for this stock. Meanwhile, the forward yield of 2% is something that is not widely talked about, but which deserves attention as it sweetens this already savory meal. My hunch is that based upon its earnings performance, and a general improvement in the economy, we could see earnings come in well ahead of the current year estimate, which is $2.48.

Keep an Eye Peeled
Tonight after the closing bell, Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) is due out with its first quarter earnings. Wall Street expects 95 cents, though many think it will come in north of that.

The Bottom Line
Although Americans are conservative when it comes to spending, it's hard to tell by looking at the recent results of the aforementioned eateries. While not every stock is a bargain in this space, generally speaking, earnings will be strong in the near-term, particularly as the economy advances.

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