Pizza Stock Winners And Losers

By James Brumley | May 09, 2011 AAA

Earnings season has shown us the usual number of hits and misses, but also as usual, the beats and misses can largely be broken down into industries and groups. One of Q1's winning clusters of stocks with "more to the story" is a yummy one for eaters and investors alike: pizza.

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Take Domino's Pizza (NYSE:DPZ) for instance. The $0.42 per share it earned last quarter topped expectations by $0.08, and profits were up 12% compared to the same quarter a year earlier. The company credits a new recipe as the reason for the rising amount of dough.

Papa John's (Nasdaq:PZZA) followed suit, earning $0.64 per share versus the expected $0.60, on a 3.6% increase in total revenue. The figure was $0.02 stronger than Q1's from a year earlier.

Even though it's not a pure pizza play, Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) - owner of Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut - confirmed that pizza is still hot. Though the company as a whole struggled in the first quarter by falling a penny short of the expected per-share earnings of $0.64, Pizza Hut wasn't one of the problems. Indeed, Pizza Hut's same-store sales were up 12%.

The theme is clear - pizza is once again profitable and growing. In fact, the only outlier for that reality in Q1 appears to be California Pizza Kitchen (Nasdaq:CPKI), which saw its per-share profit sink 15% on a very slight dip in revenue.

The Two Keys to Pizza's Success
The numbers for the quarter, if mulled in a vacuum, don't necessarily mean a lot. Maybe college kids were just hungrier than usual last semester (which may partially explain why a higher-priced and self-proclaimed gourmet brand like California Pizza Kitchen did not rise). If you take a look at the trends these numbers are a part of, and really scour the details, there's something more telling for investors.

The first take-away: higher input costs have been contained. Rising food prices were expected to whack earnings margins, and all four pizzerias acknowledged it was an issue, with most of them proverbially heading them off at the pass. With that worst case scenario now baked in, investors can rest easier.

The second underlying theme here: international expansion has been critical to earnings growth for the pizza industry. Domino's reported that domestic same-store sales shrunk by 1.4% last quarter, while international same-store sales grew by 8.3%. Papa John's equivalent numbers were growth rates of 6.1% and 5.6%. Yum! Brands' Pizza Hut was the same story - overseas growth has been leading the way.

Care to guess who's missing a meaningful international presence? It's not the only reason for the struggle, but being almost entirely domestic hasn't helped California Pizza Kitchen or its bottom line.

The Bottom Line
Unfortunately, Yum! Brands' other two restaurant lines (Taco Bell and KFC) are diluting what would otherwise be compelling results. And California Pizza Kitchen doesn't really have any compelling results. That leaves Domino's and Papa Johns, but in this case, this two-horse race may well be won by investors of either. (For related reading, also take a look at 6 Companies Thriving In The Recession.)

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