Notably, CMG’s comparable store sales benefit by about 2.5% per year because the company has a large number of new stores entering the comp base each year, which naturally ramp their volumes. Since Taco Bell has a mature store base, its comparable store sales don’t share that tailwind.
When we presented our thesis that Taco Bell would gain share, we received widespread ridicule from CMG’s customers in the investment community. But CMG also serves a younger demographic who are likely to be more sensitive to food prices than stock prices. It seems like Taco Bell has, in fact, gained share from this group.We surmise that this has led CMG to reconsider its strategy. In January 2013, the company strongly hinted that it would raise prices this year. Historically, CMG had been able to raise prices with impunity. However, with comparable store sales running in the low single digits, management decided to postpone the increase until 2014, when they plan to raise prices in conjunction with announcing that all their food is GMO-free. We believe that competition, particularly for college aged patrons, has reduced CMG’s ability to raise prices without losing customers and, based on its actions, it appears management agrees.
The result of all of this is that CMG is now expected to earn less in both 2013 and 2014 than consensus believed prior to Taco Bell’s innovations. Unfortunately for us, the market has rewarded CMG with an expanded P/E multiple, which is quite surprising in the face of falling comparable store sales, slowing and disappointing earnings growth, and a loss of pricing power.Such is the nature of the current market environment. Muy Loco!
From David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital third quarter 2013 letter.