A gain of 54.19% in 2019 for shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG) tells a story of a stock gaining alongside a high amount of unusual trading activity. It's bullish activity because the shares are heading higher on increasing volumes, indicating that a buyer is involved. I actually wrote about Chipotle in early January. The activity we noticed then, we are noticing now.

This stock is interesting because so many people were betting against Chipotle after its E. coli scares. That actually created opportunity. Smart money managers are always looking to bet on the next outlier stocks – the best in class – especially when the company has taken a beating.

The main criteria we look for when betting on upside in a stock are a history of strong fundamentals, solid technicals and unusual trading in the shares. I'll go into the fundamental picture later, but the true tell on the near-term trajectory of the stock lies in its trading activity. Simply put, it's all about supply and demand. When demand is higher than supply, the stock rises. When demand is lower than supply, stocks fall. For 2019, Chipotle stock has clearly been in demand.

For Mapsignals, when we look for an entry on a leading stock, we want to see an increase of potential buying. Just to show you graphically what our unusual trading activity signals look like, have a look at all of the unusual institutional (UI) signals Chipotle stock has made over the past year. Focusing on 2019, you can see a lot of buy signals, which coincide with a lift in the shares. This is exactly the kind of setup we look for at our research firm. We want to bet on the best … period. This progression for Chipotle stock is notable because stocks move based on supply and demand. Lately, demand is clearly outstripping supply:

Chart showing the unusual institutional (UI) signals made by Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG) stock

So far in 2019, Chipotle stock has logged 13 unusually high-volume days, indicative of buying in the shares (see chart above). However, what gets our attention now is that Chipotle is still gaining quietly but in an unusual way, which suggests that demand for the stock is increasing. If you are going to make a bet on the direction of a stock, it is prudent to pay attention to how the shares are trading. Just like you don't want to fight the trend, you also don't want to fight a stock that shows increasing price alongside an increase in the volume traded. Someone could potentially be accumulating a position.

Mapsignals' goal is to identify tomorrow's top stocks today. We're basically looking for outlier companies with healthy fundamentals accompanied by outsized unusual institutional trading activity. By studying these data points, we can make an educated guess as to which equities institutions are trafficking in and marry this information with fundamentally sound companies. We want the odds on our side when looking for the highest-quality stocks.

When we decide on a strong candidate, we consider prior leaders that have a history of technical outperformance. When they show leadership, we see these as opportunities. The following are a few areas in which Chipotle stock has grabbed our attention:

  • Year-to-date (YTD) outperformance vs. market: +41.04% vs. SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY)
  • YTD outperformance vs. sector: +40.29% vs. Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLY)
  • Recent bullish unusual trading signals

Now, we take it a step further and score the best stocks showing unusual trading activity. Below you can see the historical times since 2018 when Chipotle stock made buy signals for Mapsignals. These are the highest-rated signals in our stock universe. Clearly, we have been all over the massive run-up over the past year. We'd even venture to call this stock an outlier:

Chart showing the buy signals made by Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG) stock

On top of a technical picture that is strong, one should also look under the hood to see if the fundamental picture supports a long-term investment. As you can see, Chipotle's latest earnings report showed solid year-over-year (YoY) growth:

  • Q4 2018 YoY revenue growth rate: +10.4%
  • Q4 2018 YoY adjusted diluted EPS growth rate: +11%

Chipotle is breaking out to highs and has a history of great fundamentals. We like the long-term story of the stock. The narrative for Chipotle and other fast casual diners is one of growth as consumers look to higher-quality food options. We are always on the lookout for great companies showing usual trading activity in the shares. The best companies tend to trend higher over the long run. All of this points to a long-term opportunity for the stock.

The Bottom Line

Chipotle stock represents a potential buying opportunity for the long-term investor. Given the lift in price, historical fundamental outperformance and recent unusual accumulation signals, this stock could be worth a spot in a growth-oriented portfolio.

Disclosure: The author holds a long position in Chipotle shares at the time of publication.