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Zack’s Bull of the Day: Jack in the Box

Changing customer tastes and a variety of other choices in the restaurant industry has hampered the returns for giants like McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), leaving plenty of room for more nimble companies to step in and take market share. These smaller companies still have impressive growth avenues at their disposal and could make for excellent choices if investors want to tap into the rising consumer trend in a positive way.

While a number of companies fit this bill, a potential top choice could be Jack in the Box (NASDAQ:JACK). This California-based fast food company has done a great job in zeroing in on its target market and this has really paid off for the company in the recent past. In fact, shares of JACK are up nearly 75% in the past one year time frame, easily trouncing the S&P 500 in the time period.

But with such huge gains already, some investors might be wondering if there are any growth opportunities left for JACK in the near term. If we look to the positive trend in the consumer market– where customers have more cash to spend on discretionary items thanks to lower oil prices– and recent earnings estimate revisions, you have to think that JACK can continue to march higher as we push further into 2015.

Recent Earnings Estimates

For both the current quarter and the current year, not a single analyst in the Zacks Consensus has lowered their earnings estimate for JACK. Instead, we have seen a noticeable trend to the upside, as analysts seem to be in agreement regarding the positive future for JACK.

This is translating into a higher consensus estimate for many of the time periods that we study, including the important full year one. Now, JACK is expected to grow earnings at a 15.9% rate this year, but then to also follow this up with a similar rate of growth in the following year too, suggesting that there are plenty of ways for Jack in the Box to increase profits in the near term.

And before you worry about JACK meeting these lofty expectations, consider that the company has a pretty good track record at earnings season, posting a 6% beat on average in the past four quarters, and then 10 beats and four misses in the previous 14 releases. In other words, the trend is on JACK’s side in this regard so look for more solid earnings when the company reports in mid-February.

Other Factors

Let’s also not forget that there is just more money to go around in consumers’ pockets, and that this is slowly translating into better prospects across the discretionary industry. While the travel and vacation industry looks to be a big winner from this trend, the incremental savings from lower gas prices will have an immediate impact on the restaurant industry, quickly leading to better prospects here.

Some research suggests that the lower oil prices are the equivalent to a $60 billion tax cut, or roughly $500 a household.  While someone isn’t likely to go on vacation with a few extra hundred dollars, a bit of extra cash is likely to trickle into smaller purchases like fast food which should boost companies in the restaurant space in the near term.

Bottom Line

For the reasons listed above, it shouldn’t be too surprising to note that the restaurant industry is looking pretty good in our models, as it the industry is currently ranked in the top 20% overall. However, JACK really stands out in this great group, thanks to its solid growth potential, ease of beating earnings estimates, and rising analyst opinion of the company’s near term prospects.

That is why we have given JACK a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) and are looking for more outperformance from the company in the near term. So if you are seeking a great way to play the positive consumer trend, look no further than JACK as it is looking very promising in an industry that will definitely benefit from macroeconomic trends.

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