Cracker Barrel Stock Has a Lot to Prove on Wednesday

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It will be a quiet week on the earnings front, but one name worth watching is Cracker Barrel (NASDAQ:CBRL). The unique concept that combines a restaurant specializing in southern comfort foods with a throwback country store will be posting its fiscal fourth-quarter results on Wednesday. 

Analysts aren’t holding out for much. They see flattish revenue growth, rising a mere 0.5% to $749.6 million. Earnings per share are expected to clock in at $2.19, just ahead of the $2.12 it rang up a year earlier. The stock is trading closer to its 52-week low than its 52-week high, seemingly making Cracker Barrel yet another casualty in what some are calling a “restaurant recession” in the casual-dining industry. It’s tempting to call this a dog stock but hush, puppy.

The exterior front porch of an empty Cracker Barrel.

Image source: Cracker Barrel.  

Rocking back and forth

Cracker Barrel is coming off of a rough fiscal third quarter. Its profit of $1.95 a share may have beaten Wall Street’s target of $1.85 a share, but revenue of $700.4 million fell well short of the $713.1 million that analysts were modeling.

Comps declined during the quarter, something that hadn’t happened in nearly three years. The end of the 11-quarter streak of positive comparable sales came at the hands of a 0.4% unit-level dip on the restaurant front — as a 2.1% slide in traffic wasn’t overcome by a 1.7% uptick in average check size — and a brutal 4.7% hit in comps at its attached country stores.

The guidance that Cracker Barrel offered in May was mixed. It increased its earnings-per-share outlook for all of fiscal 2017 to between $8.25 and $8.35, up from its earlier range of $8.10 to $8.25. Unfortunately its top-line goal of $2.95 billion for the entire fiscal year was just shy of where the stock’s analysts were waiting. Investors often applaud bottom-line growth and margin expansion over revenue spurts, but the concern here is that the concept’s popularity is going through a rough patch. 

Cracker Barrel isn’t standing still. It’s opening more stores, and it’s also building out its Holler & Dash sibling concept that gives gourmet biscuit sandwiches a fast-casual spin. The restaurateur also boosted its dividend in May, a move that pushes its current yield to 3.9%. The chain has also sprinkled some hefty special dividends into the mix. Its springtime guidance finds analysts taking a cautious stance as we approach Wednesday’s report, but Cracker Barrel has managed to beat analyst earnings estimates handily for three consecutive quarters. If it wants to become a rare market darling in the casual-dining space space again, it will have to make sure that it can offer an upbeat top-line outlook for fiscal 2018, too.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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