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Wall Street Doesn't Believe in Chipotle, but You Still Can

Image source: Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Another day, another Wall Street pro who's waxing ho-hum on Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG). Canaccord analyst Lynne Collier became the latest restaurant watcher to offer up an unflattering take on the former market darling. 

Collier is initiating coverage on Chipotle for Canaccord after coming over from Stern Agee earlier this year. She is slapping a hold rating on the stock, and her $425 price target suggests just 7% of upside off of yesterday's close. Monday's uninspiring take isn't the only time that a firm has turned "meh" on the burrito roller in recent days. It's actually the third trading day in a row with concerning stances from Wall Street's grizzled vets.

The streak of negativity began last Thursday when Morgan Stanley's John Glass stuck to his equal weight rating and $405 price target after paying a visit to company executives. There was nothing that co-CEO Monty Moran and CFO Jack Hartung said during the meeting to make Glass change his neutral stance on the company. The recovery process has yet to pick up the pace, and he fears that store margins will continue to be under pressure, with Chipotle slowing the rate of store expansion in the future.

There's Chiptopia, sure, but Glass' take on the summertime loyalty rewards program is that it's only making the die-hard customers come more often. Chipotle still needs to address the other 75% of its client base, and that will require more than the frequent dining program that concludes at the end of next month.

Spreading the gloom

Friday's boo bird was Maxim analyst Stephen Anderson, offering a bleak prognosis in a Bloomberg article about Wall Street's impatience in light of the chain's recent slumps. Three quarters of brutal double-digit declines in comps have a funny way of testing the mettle of investors.  

Anderson argues that Chipotle no longer has a free pass with the market. It will need to drum up a new way to operate if it wants to regain its status as the cult fave that's the envy of the fast casual industry. Adding a mobile payment platform, diversifying the makeup of its boardroom, and shifting to monthly reporting wouldn't hurt. 

There's a lot riding on a turnaround at the 2,124-unit chain. The comparisons will naturally get easier once we get to the fourth quarter, and its store-level performance will be pitting against the negative swoon that began midway through the holiday quarter last year. However, Chipotle will need more than stability to win investors back. The chain will have to return to earlier profitability and sales levels if the stock will ever merit its lofty earlier valuations. 

Chipotle stock has surrendered 48% of its value since peaking last year, a month before the news of the food-borne illnesses outbreaks started to break. The silver lining there is that the stock doesn't have to make all of those gains back to beat the market at this point. It just needs to start making progress with its turnaround efforts -- and at least three Wall Street pros over the past week don't see that happening just yet.

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Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.