El Pollo Loco (LOCO) - Get El Pollo Loco Holdings Inc Report reported first-quarter results Thursday afternoon that showed earnings per share uncharacteristically missed forecasts, sending the company's already beleaguered share price more 15% lower in Friday.
El Pollo, the owner, operator and franchisor of Mexican styled chicken restaurants, recorded 17 cents a share in its first quarter EPS, falling short of forecasts of 18 cents a share. Granted, it's just a penny a share of a miss, but at these relatively modest levels, a mere cent amounts to almost 7%.
It marked something of a departure for the company, which has been struggling with several trends the last year of its operation, though it beat earnings forecasts for each quarter of last year.
Analysts remain constructive on the outlook for the restaurant chain. Jefferies, in a note Friday, maintained its $17 price target, saying that the results reflected some near-term bumps, but that the quarter continued to show signs of improvement. Same store sales growth was fractionally higher than had been expected, with traffic trends at the start of the second quarter showing improvement, the firm said. The company seems to be putting some prior marketing missteps further in its past, Jefferies added.
The recent stock performance represents a huge discount to the ebullience that greeted El Pollo Loco's debut as a public company less than two years ago. The restaurant chain was owned at the time by a private equity firm named Trimaran Capital Partners, which bought the business in 2005 for $400 million, contributing a reported $110 million in cash for the acquisition, and - as is typical for PE transactions - funding the balance with debt. (Its market capitalization more than a decade later is barely higher at $431 million.)
In July 2014, Trimaran brought El Pollo Loco public in an IPO that priced shares at $15, raising $107 million, and giving the company an implied value of $660 million.
Near the time of the El Pollo IPO, private equity firms were having something of a field day taking restaurant companies they owned to the public markets via IPOs. Zoe's Kitchen (ZOES) , a Mediterranean fast casual chain owned by PE firm Brentwood Associates, came to market two months before El Pollo, and shares surged 65% in its first day of trading. Noodles & Co. (NDLS) - Get Noodles & Co. Class A Report , which debuted the previous year, surged 77% in its inaugural trading day.
El Pollo Loco had a similar trajectory: after its $15 debut, shares changed hands day one at $24, and within a week were over $40.
The stock closed Friday at just over $11 a share, just above the low for the year of just under $10 a share, reached back in November.
However, the ground eventually opened up under these newly public restaurant chains. Noodles now trades at $11 a share. Even Shake Shack (SHAK) - Get Shake Shack, Inc. Class A Report , regarded as one of the fair-haired children of the restaurants-taken-public wavelets, has come back to earth. After pricing in January 2015 at $21 a share, the stock more than doubled its first day, and within three months climbed above $90; shares still trade above the IPO price, but well off the highs, at $34 Friday.
The pullback in El Pollo Loco seems particularly painful for Trimaran, as well as Freeman Spogli, another PE firm that Trimaran sold a stake to in 2007. According to an SEC filing that El Pollo Loco made in March, Trimaran still holds 46% of the restaurant chain's stock.
The 2016 first quarter featured a miss on the top line, as revenues came in at $94 million, shy of projections of $98 million. Slow traffic at its company owned locations, which showed a decline of 0.6%, couldn't be fully offset by a modest uptick in its much smaller franchised unit base, though overall same store sales increased by 0.7% for the quarter, thanks in part to some aggressive pricing in some markets.
The company provided a full year outlook for EPS of 70 to 74 cents a share, unchanged from previous estimates, compared with forecasts of 74 cents, clearly indicating there would be a risk that 2016 earnings could come up a little shy.
El Pollo has been hurt by higher wage costs, especially in California, a big market for the chicken purveyor, where state mandated higher minimum wage costs have notched up labor costs.