Shares of fast casual Mexican eatery Chipotle (NYSE:CMG) have been on a tear since February of 2018. At that point in time, Chipotle stock bottomed at $250 before former Taco Bell executive Brian Niccol took over as CEO.
Ever since, Niccol has executed flawlessly on multiple growth initiatives, the sum of which have driven Chipotle to report its best numbers ever since the infamous E. coli outbreak. Consequently, CMG stock has nearly tripled over that same stretch, and today finally trades near its pre-E. coli highs.
Although the Chipotle turnaround is very real, and the company is firing on all cylinders, this mega-rally in CMG stock may be on its last legs.
Why? Many reasons, ranging from valuation to slowing growth concerns. Put together, all these concerns paint an outlook for CMG stock that isn’t all that great.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at four reasons to sell CMG stock on this big rally.
Too Far, Too Fast
Broadly speaking, CMG has simply come too far, too fast.
The stock has nearly tripled over the past fourteen months. That’s a big rally on its own, but a big portion of this rally has happened recently, with the stock up 85% since Christmas 2018. That’s a near 100% rally in just over three months.
Because of this big rally, Chipotle stock is now in technically overbought territory, with a Relative Strength Index that is as high as its been pretty much ever and a stock price that is nearly as far as its ever been above its 200-day moving average.
All of these overbought conditions, and the stock is heading into earnings season. That means the numbers need to be really good in order for the stock to hold onto its gains. If they aren’t really good, the stock could drop in a big way.
I follow a lot of stocks, and Chipotle is now close to being the most richly valued restaurant stock I’ve ever seen that isn’t growing revenues at a 20%-plus rate.
Chipotle stock trades at nearly 60-times forward earnings. The giants in this space, like McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), Yum (NYSE:YUM), Jack in the Box (NASDAQ:JACK), and Domino’s (NYSE:DPZ), trade around 20- to 30-times forward earnings. The sector average forward multiple is 24.
To be sure, the fast growers like Shake Shack (NYSE:SHAK) and Wingstop (NASDAQ:WING) trade around 100-times forward earnings, but both of those companies are projected to do 20%-plus revenue growth this year. Chipotle is projected at a much more mundane 9% sales growth this year, which is pretty much the same as McDonald’s and Domino’s.
True, there is a big margin expansion narrative at play here, but even if you model that narrative out, there still isn’t enough long term profit power here to justify a $700-plus price tag.
Economic Slowdown and Chipotle Stock
Although stocks are rallying to all time highs, the economy is still slowing, U.S. consumer sentiment is still below where it was for most of 2018, and sales across the restaurant industry haven’t been all that great to start 2019.
Inevitably, this slowdown will catch up to Chipotle. The company is firing on all cylinders right now thanks to digital business expansion, menu innovations, and a new marketing campaign. But, those tailwinds will cool in 2019 as they mature and come against tougher laps. When that happens, a slowing economy will start to show up in Chipotle’s numbers, and that could have a materially negative impact on the stock.
Mysterious E. coli Outbreak
To be clear, there has been an E. coli outbreak in the United States, a source has not been identified, and Chipotle hasn’t been mentioned by any reports. It’s also highly unlikely that Chipotle is the source of this outbreak.
Having said that, there is an E. coli outbreak happening right now, and the last major E. coli outbreak in the U.S. was Chipotle’s fault. I don’t think consumers have entirely forgotten that. Consequently, when consumers hear E. coli outbreak today, they naturally get a little bit worried about Chipotle. This worry may have a negative impact on the numbers in April and May, and that could provide a drag on Chipotle stock.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long MCD and DPZ.