Shares of Jack in the Box (JACK) - Get Jack in the Box Inc. Report are adding to Monday's 1.1% gain, rallying about 3.2% in early Tuesday trading after the company announced it will sell its Qdoba chain to Apollo Global Management (APO) - Get Apollo Global Management Inc. Report for $305 million.
The $305 million sale represents roughly 10% of Jack's $3 billion market cap. Management expects the deal to close by April and the proceeds will be used to pay down debt. Given that the company has about $1.08 billion in long-term debt, perhaps the move isn't so surprising.
However, there are some question marks on the deal. For one, would Jack in the Box have fetched more for Qdoba in the open market via an IPO? While it would be a lengthier and more complicated process, it could have paid off more in the intermediate term. Further, while Jack's debt is high, it's not excessive and the company generates enough cash flow to cover its costs.
It also brings up the question of whether Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) - Get Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Report is possibly undervalued and whether any speculation to an acquisition is now reasonably justified. Last month, Chipotle stock hit its lowest levels since December 2012. Food illness issues continue to plague the stock, as sales, margins, comparable-store sales and earnings have come under pressure as a result.
Despite all this, Bernstein analyst Sara Senatore said Chipotle is their top takeout target in the space. The theory does make some sense, given that activist investor Bill Ackman has a position in the stock and the company is working through a CEO transition. Further, Senatore argues that Chipotle has a well-known brand, the ability to boost its steady cash flow and cut costs. For these reasons, it makes for an attractive M&A target.
TheStreet's Jim Cramer, who also manages the Action Alerts PLUS charitable trust portfolio, found the note interesting but wasn't willing to speculate on the odds of an acquisition. Given the current circumstances, a deal seem unlikely at the moment though, he said.
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Not helping matters is Chipotle's $8.8 billion market cap. While there are a lot of companies that could technically pull off a deal in excess of $10 billion, there aren't a lot of them in the food space.
Arby's acquired Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) for $2.9 billion, while Panera was purchased by a private equity firm for $7.5 billion earlier this year. There's not a lot of players with the capital to take on Chipotle. Wendy's (WEN) - Get Wendy's Company Report has a $3.8 billion market cap and Restaurant Brands International (QSR) - Get Restaurant Brands International Inc Report , which owns brands like Tim Hortons and Burger King and trades with a $14.5 billion market cap. I suppose it could pull off the deal, but it seems unlikely.
McDonald's (MCD) - Get McDonald's Corporation Report has a $139 billion market cap, but given that it spun off Chipotle in the first place, it seems unlikely to come back and pay a huge premium for it now. There's also Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Starbucks Corporation Report , with an $82 billion market cap, but that doesn't seem likely either.
With some viewing Qdoba as undervalued, maybe a buyer for Chipotle isn't a realistic option. Shares of Chipotle are down about 1% in early Tuesday trading.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author had no positions in the stocks mentioned.