Chipotle shares rise on better-than-expected earnings, CEO says chain is 'fortunate' it can raise prices

Chipotle shares rise on better-than-expected earnings, CEO says chain is 'fortunate' it can raise prices

Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill jumped 8% in extended trading on Tuesday after the company reported quarterly earnings that topped analyst expectations.

Menu price hikes helped offset inflation without hurting customer demand. Other chains haven’t had as much luck charging customers more. Fellow restaurant giants McDonald’s and Starbucks both fell short of Wall Street’s earnings expectations for their latest quarters due to higher costs.

“We’re pretty fortunate with the pricing power that we have,” Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”

Next quarter, the burrito chain expects same-store sales growth to slow due to the omicron variant.

Here’s what the company reported compared with what Wall Street was expecting, based on a survey of analysts by Refinitiv:

  • Earnings per share: $5.58 adjusted vs. $5.25 expected
  • Revenue: $1.96 billion vs. $1.96 billion expected

The company reported fourth-quarter net income of $133.48 million, or $4.69 per share, down from $190.96 million, or $6.69 per share, a year earlier. The company paid more for beef, avocados and freight during the quarter.

“Those things continue to stay elevated, and until we start to see some of these things pull back, we are probably will have to take some price,” Niccol said.

Its workers also earned higher wages. Niccol said the chain is back to pre-pandemic staffing levels.

Excluding legal expenses, closure costs and other items, Chipotle earned $5.58 per share, beating the $5.25 per share expected by analysts surveyed by Refinitiv.

Net sales rose 22% to $1.96 billion, meeting expectations. Same-store sales climbed 15.2%, surpassing StreetAccount estimates of 14.8%. Chipotle credited menu price hikes, strong online sales and demand for its limited-time smoked brisket for its sales growth in the quarter.

To date, Chipotle has raised menu prices by 6% in 2022, according to Niccol. Compared with a year ago, customers are paying about 10% more for their orders. Niccol told CNBC’s Sara Eisen that the chain hasn’t seen any resistance to higher prices yet from customers.

Digital sales ticked up 3.8%, accounting for 41.6% of the company’s sales during the quarter. Chipotle has more than 26.5 million members in its loyalty program, which is meant to encourage customers to order online.

In the back half of December, the chain started seeing an impact on sales from the omicron variant, a trend that accelerated in January. The first month of the year also included winter storms that hurt demand in some regions.

Looking to next quarter, Chipotle is forecasting same-store sales growth in the mid- to high-single digits. Analysts are expecting same-store sales to rise 8.9% during the first three months of the year, according to StreetAccount estimates.

For 2022, Chipotle is forecasting between 235 to 250 new restaurant openings, assuming permitting and construction delays due to the pandemic don’t worsen. It opened 78 new locations in the fourth quarter.

The company also expanded its long-term prediction for its North American footprint from 6,000 restaurants to 7,000 locations. Niccol said on the conference call that the change to its goal comes from locations in smaller towns, which are often operating at better margins than its traditional urban or suburban restaurants.

By 2023, Chipotle believes it can accelerate its pace of new units to a range of 8% to 10% a year, citing improving cash-on-cash returns. More than 80% of the new restaurants will include “Chipotlanes,” the drive-thru lanes dedicated to picking up only digital orders.

The company didn’t share an outlook for its full-year earnings or revenue. CFO Jack Hartung said the pandemic and labor situation made it too difficult to share a 2022 forecast.

Read the full earnings report here.