Invest in Chipotle, Despite Slow Growth?
With Chipotle Mexican Grill facing slowing growth, two analysts warned that a rise in menu prices to mitigate potential food inflation could further reduce customer traffic and sales.
Chipotle anticipates mid-single-digit comparable restaurant sales growth for the full year, but said it sees only flat to low-single digit growth in 2013. (Read More: Chipotle Misses on Earnings, Sees Slowing Sales Growth)
With growth slowing, margins could get squeezed if inflation picks up next year. On the conference call, Chipotle said it was reluctant to raise menu prices. While it has not seen a loss in market share to other competitors, higher prices could drive some consumers from Chipotle to lower-priced chains like Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King.
"We expect that a lot of this is macro-driven, so I don't think the Chipotle brand is forever damaged," Jeffery Bernstein, Barclays analyst who is neutral on stock, told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "In the near term, it's going to be difficult for people to see the visibility to drive it meaningfully higher."
He noted that with last year's drought, winners in a rising commodity price environment would be twofold. The first of the two winners would be companies that franchise their businesses, which tend to be more fast-food chains.
The other winner, one that has very strong traffic trends, Bernstein said, has historically been Chipotle. However, if Chipotle raises prices, it may potentially damage further traffic.
He said the real challenge is managing investor expectations, as growth inherently slows overtime.
While Chipotle is in no rush to take on pricing, the company said it will first watch how the competitive market plays out in the next couple of quarters.
Bernstein maintains a $290 price target.
Whether or not the restaurant chain decides to raise its prices in the future, another analyst said that price change will not affect the company's market share.
Stephen Anderson, analyst at Miller Tabak, said traffic trends from the third quarter really did not change when Taco Bell introduced its new menu back in July.
"Taco Bell's products are coming from the same kitchens and condiments," he said. "Chipotle is a different product that has a different customer experience."
Anderson has a "buy" rating and a $335 price target on Chipotle shares.
—By CNBC.com's Kristine Mamanta
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Barclays Bank PLC and/or an affiliate is a market-maker and/or liquidity provider in securities issued by Chipotle Mexican Grill.