Chipotle Mexican Grill’s recovery efforts, including the appointment of a new chief executive and a new delivery partnership, represent steps in the right direction, according to Piper Jaffray.
The firm reiterated its overweight rating on the restaurant company’s shares, predicting Chipotle’s stock price could top $530 in 12 months, the highest target on Wall Street and implying 25 percent upside from Friday’s close. Its previous target was $420.
“Chipotle shares remain a top recovery pick. When, and as (not “if”) the recovery unfolds, meaningful leverage exists,” analyst Nicole Regan wrote Sunday. “Our positive bias is based on culture change, strong unit-level economics and solid balance sheet. Catalysts include operational excellence, brand remodeling, and capital deployment.”
The appointment of Brian Niccol as chief executive officer – who arrived with a successful track record at Taco Bell – as well as a new delivery partnership with DoorDash have supported the stock and sales, Regan explained, and justify same-store sales expectations in excess of 2 percent.
Shares of Chipotle rose 0.5 percent in premarket trading following Piper Jaffray’s optimistic call. The shares are up 47 percent this year.
While new CEO Niccol built a reputation for menu innovation at Taco Bell, he recently told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” that while investors shouldn’t expect major changes to the company’s offerings, items like breakfast burritos aren’t out of the question.
“Job number one is to remind people why they love Chipotle,” Niccol told CNBC in March. “I think there [are] opportunities to use what we have and present it in new forms, new varieties, to get people re-engaged with what they love about Chipotle.”
Such initiatives are likely welcome news to investors like Pershing Square activist Bill Ackman, who’s leveraged a 10 percent stake in the company to encourage ideas like drive-thrus and breakfast offerings to reignite the beleaguered shares following a series of food safety issues.
“We’re not just betting on a recovery from the food safety issue,” Ackman told CNBC in November. “This is one of the least optimized of the quick service restaurants.”
It appears Ackman isn’t the only investor willing to give Chipotle another chance.
Shares of the casual Mexican eatery are up roughly 70 percent since the Chipotle board announced Niccol’s appointment on Feb. 13, while a recent hike to menu prices helped the Mexican eatery post better-than-expected earnings last month.
The improved performance sent shares soaring 24 percent, their best day since the company went public back in 2006, when its share price doubled.