The restaurant industry is "ripe for consolidation," KeyBanc Capital Markets analysts Chris O'Cull and David Carlson said in a research note Monday.
The analysts' note comes on the heels of an earlier Bloomberg report saying that Panera Bread (PNRA) is considering a sale after an interested buyer reportedly sparked talks with the sandwich and salad chain.
In an interview with TheStreet, Maxim Group analyst Stephen Anderson speculated that a company would likely pay $300 a share for Panera, resulting in a $7 billion deal.
The names of the possible buyers floating around include Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Starbucks Corporation Report , Yum! Brands (YUM) - Get Yum! Brands, Inc. (YUM) Report and even McDonald's (MCD) - Get McDonald's Corporation (MCD) Report , according to Anderson.
Regardless if Panera sells itself or not, the restaurant industry has seen a spate of merger and acquisition activity of late, and KeyBanc said it is likely to continue.
Recent transactions include Restaurant Brands International's (QSR) - Get Restaurant Brands International Inc Report$1.8 billion takeover of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (PLKI) and Darden Restaurants' (DRI) - Get Darden Restaurants, Inc. Report$780 million acquisition of privately-held Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen.
These are the top three reasons deal activity in the restaurant space is about to pick up.
Rising costs causes a need for greater scale.
KeyBanc said as the cost of operating, labor, advertising, technology investments and construction expenses ticks up, so too will M&A activity. Companies will likely look to merge with rivals to gain market share and reduce these costs.
Certain companies are just itching for a deal.
KeyBanc believes that "a number of publicly-traded restaurants on the cusp of meaningful international development" are searching for opportunities to be bought by the six global fast-food chain leaders -- McDonald's, Starbucks, Restaurant Brands, Yum!, Domino's Pizza (DPZ) - Get Domino's Pizza, Inc. Report and Dunkin Brands Group (DNKN) - Get Dunkin' Brands Group, Inc. Report .
The restaurants "on the cusp" who could "benefit from the existing infrastructure and franchise network of a large global acquirer" include Panera, Papa John's (PZZA) - Get Papa John's International, Inc. Report , Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) , Wendy's (WEN) - Get Wendy's Company Report and Wingstop (WING) - Get Wingstop, Inc. Report .
"Many potential acquirers operate with highly franchised business models leveraged with low interest rate debt and with greater access to capital compared to previous credit cycles," KeyBanc said in today's note.
Federal tax reform could be a boost to cash flows.
"Restaurant companies are typically full tax players, so Federal tax reform could provide a meaningful benefit to cash flows," KeyBanc said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has promised lowering the corporate tax rate, which currently stands at 35%, down to as low as 15% to 20%. With more cash coming in, restaurants could more quickly scale their business globally and invest in new technology.