Embattled activist investor Bill Ackman still thinks Chipotle (CMG) CEO Steve Ells is an "outstanding visionary," even though the restaurant chain's share price is in free-fall following a big earnings miss.
"I think he's an outstanding visionary CEO who's has done a great job building the concept, the brand," Ackman said in an interview with the TheStreet.
Ackman's comments come after the fast-casual chain reported third-quarter earnings last week that missed Wall Street estimates by nearly $1. Chipotle posted earnings per share of $0.69, way off compared to the analyst consensus of $1.64. It claims that the low earnings per share reflect a 64 cents a share impact from being systematically hacked in May and about $0.13 from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
However, the company is also still trying to repair its image after it perhaps reached rock bottom in July after a customer at a Dallas-area restaurant posted a video of rodents inside the location. Shortly before that, also in July, 135 customers got sick after eating at a Sterling, Va., Chipotle, which tested positive for norovirus, likely spread by a Chipotle employee. The company is also still trying to repair its image after its E. coli outbreak at restaurants in 14 states in 2015.
It's recent share price of $270.20 a share also is well below Ackman's investment cost basis of about $404 or $405 a share. Pershing Square acquired an initial 9.9% stake last year.
The activist, who runs Pershing Square Capital Management, settled with Chipotle in December in a move that added four new directors to the company's board, including Ali Namvar, a member of Ackman's investing team. The restaurant chain also ended its costly co-CEO arrangement after co-CEO Monty Moran left, another success for Ackman. Nevertheless, the investment has been mostly negative for Ackman since then.
Ackman added that Chipotle in May brought in a chief restaurant officer, Scott Boatwright, a former Arby's executive, who he described as "excellent." He also suggested that Pershing Square's investment in Chipotle is only at a very early stage so far, noting that the fund has allocated capital to the investment for roughly a year, a "tiny fraction of time" for one of the fund's investments.
In its earnings release, Chipotle also announced that it opened 38 new restaurants in the three-month period ending on Sept. 30 and closed or relocated three.
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