This Stock Operates Like a Machine, Just Like the Company’s Stores

As hard as it is to say, I’m still bullish on the consumer.

It feels so wrong, which is what makes it so right from my unique approach of tracking the market.

For more than a year, analysts and the media have cast doubts all over the consumer’s ability to handle inflation and a weakening economy.

Despite the gloom and doom stories about our economy, the consumer keeps swiping their credit cards and booking vacations. That’s resulted in one heck of a bullish contrarian trade that still has room to move higher.

There are just over 50 stocks represented in the consumer discretionary sector. The largest three are Amazon (AMZN), Costco (COST) and Home Depot (HD). The smallest three are Mohawk Industries (MHK), Advanced Auto Parts (AAP), and Newell Brands (NWL).

For the record, I’m currently bearish on Newell given its poor technical and fundamental standing. But we’re not here to talk about that. Let’s look at the bullish candidates.

The “dining out” experience has been one thing that has stayed consistent through the surge in inflation.

For the last year, we’ve seen patrons continue to flood into the fast casual and mid-market restaurants.  For a while it was simple math, restaurants weren’t raising their prices as quickly as grocery stores. This meant that patrons could eat out for less than they would spend cooking at home.

Those times have changed as restaurants have updated menus to reflect their pricing. Nonetheless, the consumer has still been fine with spending a little more for the convenience of dining out.

One company continues to lead the consumer discretionary sector in this category: Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG).

Shares of Chipotle are 63% higher year-over-year, as the company has been one of the top 10 performing stocks among the group. The strong technical performance comes from a surge in the company’s fundamental performance.

The last two quarters have displayed Chipotle’s ability to maintain their market dominance in their space by passing higher prices to their guests.

They’ve done that without backlash from their guests, too.

This has helped the company to maintain their operating margin performance. A feat that other companies in all sectors have struggled to achieve.

I’m telling you things that you could look up yourself so far. Let’s get into my unique look at the stock.

First, the price activity in Chipotle has a familiar signature that suggests shares are ready to surge higher.

Since reporting their quarterly earnings in April, the stock has been relatively quiet and range bound.

That's About to Change

The stock is locked in what I call a “volatility squeeze.”

This situation happens when a stock trades more quietly than normal. Call it the “quiet before the storm.” In almost all cases, quiet stocks like Chipotle come out of their hibernation and start making swift and volatile moves.

The 50-day moving average for Chipotle’s shares is in a strong uptrend and just provided support for the stock. This is nudging shares higher above their top Bollinger Band, which will be the catalyst for the next surge higher for the stock’s price.

Here’s the chart… The green arrow identifies the current price movement as it breaks its volatility silence.

cmg stock chart

In addition to the volatility pushing shares higher, we’re likely to see investors and traders start buying the stock again.

Chipotle’s earnings are in just under a week. Investors are likely to start “buying the rumor” as we get closer to that earnings date of April 24.

Buy the rumor rallies occur more often on stocks that beat their previous quarter’s earnings targets. The previous quarter beat sets the stage for investors to have a “fear of missing out” on the next earnings jump.

Another “behavioral” catalyst for higher prices over the next few months lies in the hands of the analysts tracking Chipotle shares.

Right now, the average target price of the 25 Wall Street analysts tracking the stock is $2,937. That target price is below current share prices. This means that the analysts are likely to start issuing target price upgrades.

So, Where Do Shares Go from Here?

My intermediate-term target for the stock is $3,400, which represents a 13% move higher for Chipotle shares.

There are two ways to trade this stock from here.

First, keep it simple by purchasing shares. I’ve added the stock to my long-term stock portfolio based on my outlook.

The second is to bring the cost down and leverage the expected move with options.

At $3,000, options on Chipotle are more expensive than options on Microsoft (MSFT). That goes without saying. But, given the stock’s outlook, I’m still a fan of this approach, though it may cost a little more.

Here’s an option that I am considering using for the upcoming rally.

The September 20, 2024 CMG $3,100 calls should be trading for a price of around $211.80 per contract.  This option would provide the opportunity to leverage the expected move in shares of Chipotle.

Options traders that want to reduce the cost even further could execute a vertical call spread strategy by selling a further out-of-the-money option. We’ll talk about this strategy in more detail in the weeks coming.

About the Author

Chris Johnson (“CJ”), a seasoned equity and options analyst with nearly 30 years of experience, is celebrated for his quantitative expertise in quantifying investors’ sentiment to navigate Wall Street with a deeply rooted technical and contrarian trading style.

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