Ever since Chipotle's E. coli scare in the fall of 2015, the restaurant chain has been struggling to regain its former glory. Now, Jim Cramer thinks its stock is ready to turn around in a big way.
"I've been saying the same thing over and over and over and over and over again: that restaurant chains can and do come back from these health scares, but according to history, it takes about eighteen months for the numbers to turn around," the "Mad Money" host said.
The 18-month mark is nearly here, and sure enough, Chipotle's stock rose over 20 percent in the last three months, closing at $452.75 a share on Monday.
Cramer has repeatedly classified Chipotle as "a very well-managed company" that was as good a candidate as any to pull itself out of its post-outbreak lows.
Watch the full segment here:
When the fast-casual Mexican chain reported fourth-quarter earnings in early February, it still missed estimates on the top and bottom lines.
"In terms of new numbers, though, management told us that the company's same-store sales grew by more than 24% in January — exactly the kind of pickup that we'd been waiting for and expected," Cramer said.
Beyond that, Chipotle executives also gave analysts a detailed explanation of their various turnaround initiatives, including simpler digital ordering, more third-party delivery partners, and the biggest ad campaign Chipotle has ever run, set to begin in April.
Company leaders also suggested that in 2017, Chipotle would deliver a better-than-expected earnings target of $10 as well as high single-digit same-store sales growth.
The main counterweights threatening Chipotle's continued success are the company's expenses.
"In order to boost its sales, Chipotle's spending a fortune to drive traffic, and these investments could put a major dent in the company's bottom line," Cramer said. "This is what most of the analysts are really worried about, that higher labor costs, the higher food costs, along with technology and marketing investments, will weigh heavily on what the company is making after its sales — in other words, the company's margins."
But the stock looks like it has already seen bottom, and Cramer's take is that costs matter less than whether Chipotle's marketing tactics work as well as they have before, like in the case of its loyalty program and various coupon campaigns.
"Chipotle needs to keep executing, but the pieces are all there. Even the tricky border pieces are in place," Cramer said. "Time for Chipotle to put the rest of the puzzle together. I recommend that you homegamers hang on for the ride, and new buyers, wait for the dip that will come after this fast run up that we had today, and then grab it and go."
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