El Pollo Loco (NASDAQ: LOCO) has had its ups and downs since going public in July. After going public, shares initially soared above the IPO price of $15, hitting a high of $41 roughly one week later. However, shares are now hovering over the stock’s all-time low of $21.25.
Investors were excited about the West Coast fast food chain because of its ability to offer healthy options. As other fast food chains struggle to retain health-conscious consumers, El Pollo Loco boasts that its chicken is grilled, not fried. The chain currently has approximately 400 locations around the West Coast, but has ambitions to expand to 2,300 locations around the country. Just this week, the chain opened new locations in Texas.
El Pollo Loco still has large debts, despite using the $113 million from the IPO to help pay them down. On December 11th, the company announced a 5-year $200 million loan with a new credit facility. This agreement replaced the prior $205 million, which still had an outstanding loan balance of $188.6 million. LOCO announced that it would use $26.5 million of its “cash on hand to further reduce” outstanding debt. After the refinancing, El Pollo Loco will still have $165 million outstanding total debt.
Despite tumultuous stock prices and growing pains, analysts are bullish on the stock.
On January 6th, analyst Andy Barish of Jefferies upgraded El Pollo Loco from Hold to Buy but lowered his price target from $30 to $27. The analyst believes that current share prices are “at the low end of historical growth ranges for growth companies.” He continued, “While it is still early in El Pollo Loco’s unit growth story, with just two locations open in Houston today, we think the current valuation underappreciates the company’s multiple effective SSS drivers and the infrastructure already in place to ramp new unit development to 8%-10% over time.”
Andy Barish has made 29 successful recommendations in the past year out of 49 total, earning an overall success rate of 59%. He has a +5.6% average return per recommendation.
Separately on January 5th, analyst David Tarantino of Robert W. Baird upgraded LOCO to a Buy with a $34 price target.He is bullish due to store expansion, including the potential for international growth, and improvements in profit margin. Tarantino notes, “We continue to have a high degree of confidence in the near- and long-term growth outlook.” He notes that LOCO’s risk-reward ratio has improved since releasing third quarter earnings and the analyst estimates $0.12 earnings per share for 2015.
David Tarantino has made 14 successful recommendations out of 25 total this year, earning a 56% overall success rate with a +13.3% average return per recommendation.
On average, the top analyst consensus for LOCO on TipRanks is Moderate Buy.