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Chipotle: How Much Will Costs Affect Margins?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Wall Street is expecting good things when Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG - Get Report) reports quarterly earnings after market close. Investors, however, will be watching to see whether the company's margins are impacted by rising food prices.

Analysts, on average, are expecting the fast-casual restaurant to post earnings of $2.81 a share, up 10% compared to the year-earlier period. Revenue is expected to rise 16% to $803 million, according to Thomson Reuters.

U.S. store growth seems to be accelerating at the popular burrito bowl eatery. The company opened 48 restaurants in the first quarter, typically the slowest quarter for openings, "which suggests that its target for 165-180 full year [store] openings could prove low for the second consecutive year," according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Joseph Buckley.

However, analysts will be paying close attention to Chipotle's outlook for commodities prices through the rest of the year. The Denver-based company has been hinting at price increases, likely in the fourth quarter, if food prices remain high.

Buckley expects second-quarter margins to decrease 180 basis points "with higher food costs driving half of the decline and heavier marketing spend also coming into play," the note says.

"If food costs seem less threatening, CMG may elect not to raise prices. This could be a negative for the stock if 2Q earnings are sloppy but should not be if the quarter is in line or better than expected," Buckley writes, in a note.

"From a pricing perspective, we suspect management will remain circumspect after having indicated in April that any pricing action would not occur until late summer or early fall ... particularly if they want to assess the potential of a retrenchment in commodity costs," William Blair analyst Sharon Zackfia writes in a July 15 note. "Importantly, we continue to believe the question is when, not if, and view Chipotle's pricing power as among the best in the restaurant industry."

Another issue where analyst opinions vary is same-store sales growth. Analysts are expecting anywhere from 3% to 5% rise in comparable store sales for the quarter.
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