Papa John’s shares rally as new ads fuel sales, possible acquisition

CEO Steve Ritchie told analysts on a conference call that YouGov Brand Index indicated consumer sentiment toward the company had shifted “from largely negative to neutral or positive” during the period.

The company’s shares have recovered from hitting a 52-week low of $38.05 Aug. 8 after it released disappointing second-quarter earnings the day before. They’ve rebounded by about 48 percent since then to more than $56 a share in morning trading Wednesday.

Chris O’Cull, analyst at Stifel, said he thinks it’s because “investors expect the company will be acquired.”

“The company did not comment on whether it was pursuing a transaction or any strategic alternative,” he wrote in a research note Tuesday. “However, given the deteriorating fundamentals, investors need the company to find a buyer soon, in our opinion.”

Papa John’s enlisted the help of Bank of America and Lazard to explore a sale and has attracted initial bids from both corporate and private equity buyers, people familiar with the process have told CNBC.

However, initial bids do not always result in a sale and there will likely be at least one more round of bids before a buyer is selected.

While there are indications that Papa John’s may be interested in putting itself up for sale, including sweetening its severance plans for top executives and staff, the company has continued to decline to comment about the matter.

“Still plenty of work ahead, but progress being made, [same-store sales] likely bottoming, and there are multiple paths leading to further value creation,” Alexander Slagle, analyst at Jefferies, said in a note to investors Wednesday.

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