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Super-sized stock gains: Fast food soars

Franchising boom

New Year's resolutions are in full swing, but don't tell that to restaurant stocks. Several of them are hitting intraday all-time highs on Wednesday on the heels of Sonic's blockbuster same-store sales report.

Sonic, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Jack in the Box, Texas Roadhouse, DineEquity, Papa John's International, Brinker International, Cheesecake Factory, Buffalo Wild Wings and Darden Restaurants all jumped to all-time intraday highs Wednesday, according to FactSet data.

A day earlier, Sonic delivered a strong 8.5 percent increase in system same-store sales—more than double the consensus estimate. Following the report, its stock jumped nearly 10 percent.

A customer sips a vanilla milkshake at a Sonic drive-in restaurant in Normal, Illinois.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

On the company's earnings call, CEO and President Clifford Hudson said that the price of fuel had been a big contributor to the company's performance during the last six months as cheap gas has helped line customers' pockets.

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"To some degree, lower gas prices and higher disposable income should be good for everyone," said Michael W. Gallo, director and senior analyst at CL King, in a phone interview.

In a report out Wednesday, RBC Capital Markets analysts wrote they expect fast-food industry same-store sales growth to accelerate to 2.5 percent in December, compared to 1 percent in November.

Meanwhile, KeyBanc analysts wrote Wednesday the restaurant sector would outperform broader indicies in 2015 for an eighth consecutive year, due in part to expected easing commodity costs and more effective use of consumer-facing technology.

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The country's biggest restaurant chain, McDonald's, has struggled recently as today's consumer demands more customization and perceived quality ingredients—two trends the company is working to address as part of an ongoing domestic turnaround.

"Even though McDonald's has struggled, the macro factors should be good for everyone," Gallo added.

But in a relatively slow-growth industry, one chain's pain is another's gain.

"[F]rankly in the last number of months in the past year, the weakness in McDonald's just given their scale, if they're going to lose traffic, all of this (has) huge upside in our markets," Hudson told analysts.