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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Potbelly (PBPB) shares plunge on earnings on 19 February 2014

Potbelly Corp. (PBPB) shares fell 10% at the open Wednesday to an all-time low as hungry investors tore through the company’s latest earnings report and were left wanting more.

It was only the second time the Chicago-based sandwich shop released quarterly results as a publicly traded company, and while it nailed the adjusted EPS (posting 6 cents a share, 2 cents better than Wall Street’s expected), they came up short on these key fronts: revenue, comparable-store sales growth and outlook.

Revenue for the quarter ended Dec. 29, 2013, was $74.76 million. According to FactSet, Wall Street had been expecting $76 million.

Potbelly’s comparable-stores sales growth (sales from stores open at least 15 months) rose an anemic 0.7%, down from 2.5% in the previous quarter.

And Potbelly’s outlook for the rest of the year was chilled by the wintery weather. Potbelly blamed a disruptive external environment (aka blizzards) for its weak fourth-quarter comp sales, and warned the same relentless snow and ice have already thrown a damper on first-quarter store traffic. In other words, more of the same to start 2014.

The company is now predicting low, single-digit company-operated comparable store sales growth for the full year.

This has investors wondering. If a hot new comfort food chain can’t haul in winter-weary customers, is something missing? That empty feeling gets worse when they look back at the prospectus Potbelly filed with the SEC in August, ahead of its wildly successful initial public offering in October, in which it touted comparable-store sales growth in 12 of its previous 13 quarters, 5.9% sales growth in the “limited-service restaurants” (LSRs) segment, and a 20.7% profit margin. That profit margin slipped last quarter to 19% while overall sales growth sales was 1.7%, far below its earlier implied growth rate for the segment.

Nevertheless, Potbelly CEO Aylwin Lewis is still upbeat about the future, assuring investors the company’s long-term growth plan remains “very much on track to achieve at least 10% unit growth plus 20% EPS growth on an annual basis.”

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