Jack in the Box (JACK) - Get Report shares have rallied to a high for the year this week, thanks in large measure to a constructive response on the part of Wall Street to management's comments about a restructuring initiative that would convert more of the company's owned and operated locations into franchised operations.
Jack in the Box hosted its first analyst meeting in four years earlier this week, and comments helped to drive the share price to its high for 2016 of $85 a share. Jack shares have had something of a roller coaster ride this year, declining 19% in late March from where they started the year, only to mount a 37% rally in this week's trading.
Despite the bulge in market valuation, analysts remain constructive about the prospects for further share price appreciation, as many of the moves that the company talked about this week have yet to be implemented.
"Ultimately, we believe the message was on target, and well received," Barclays said in a research note Thursday.
Jack in the Box didn't really move the needle on earnings estimates for full year 2016 - it still sees EPS of $3.50 to $3.63, with average analyst estimates holding at $3.52 a share - but management of the quick service restaurant operation has something of a tradition of underpromising and over delivering on its financials.
The biggest boost to its bottom line could come from efforts to markedly expand its base of franchised operations by reducing the company's owned locations. Jack currently owns about 18% of its outlet base, but aims to push franchised operations to 95% by the end of fiscal year 2018.
At the analyst session, Jack management said that the refranchising push could add 6 to 15 cents of EPS a year, while cutting expenses by $35 million to $45 million by year end 2018.
The biggest benefit of the initiative would be to reduce Jack's exposure to rising labor costs, as the push for the $15 an hour minimum wage continues to pressure labor- intensive operations such as quick service restaurants. The refranchising would also insulate the company's exposure to quirks in food costs, which can be difficult to include in financials models. In moving toward a more comprehensive franchised structure, Jack would effectively shift labor and supply expenses from its balance sheet to that of store owners.
It's a model that a number of quick service restaurants, including McDonald's (MCD) - Get Report and Wendy's (WEN) - Get Report , have pursued in recent years. McDonald's held its own shareholder meeting this week, at which it discussed technological innovation, such as the introduction of ordering kiosks and the move to more robotics, and addressed the impact of higher labor costs.
Despite the rally in Jack's share price this week, analysts say the stock is still cheaper than several of its comparable operations, trading at about 10 times 2017 projected Ebitda, versus an 11 times multiple on the quick service restaurants as a whole. Analysts also see an opportunity for the company to wring some more benefits out of its Qdoba Mexican Eats operation, where the company is focused on accelerating growth.