How we predicted Chipotle's warning to investors — and what's coming next

Andy Swan
Andy Swan
A Chipotle burrito being made. Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images.

Andy Swan is the co-founder of LikeFolio, a company that provides social data for investors.

Chipotle (CMG) shares tanked 7.3% Tuesday after the fast-casual chain acknowledged that it would have to start spending more money on marketing to try to lure back customers. This news came after it appeared Chipotle was making a comeback.

However, we at LikeFolio predicted last month that the Chipotle turnaround may officially be over. It appears we may be right. How did we arrive at that prediction?

At LikeFolio, we use data gathered from social media to measure trends and shifts in consumer behavior. Our most powerful metric, “Purchase Intent Mentions,” looks at the number of people tweeting they’re spending money with a company. This is the metric that Georgetown University used to determine that social data predicts the unexpected component of sales that analysts miss.

In Chipotle’s case, a purchase intent mention could be “Headed to Chipotle for some grub” or “This Chipotle line is so slow.”  This approach gives us a real-time view into consumer spending patterns without having to run clunky surveys or wait for company-issued reports, which usually lag behind our purchase intent metrics by 30-120 days.

At the beginning of 2017, things were actually starting to looking good for Chipotle. Social-data had firmed up from a disastrous 2016, which led us to predict that the worst was behind Chipotle.

By January the company had begun to report same store sales numbers that indicated a turnaround was underway. Analysts were raising expectations, and the stock rallied over 100 points to the upside as investors began to take the Chipotle turnaround story seriously.

But then something dramatic happened. When we looked at purchase intent mentions, we saw a complete breakdown in the early parts of the year. In fact, we saw Chipotle turn in all-time lows of purchase intent mentions, our most comprehensive and critical measure of consumer spending.

This massive negative shift led us to issue a warning that the Chipotle turnaround story was officially over just a few weeks ago with the stock sitting around $480/share.

And then it happened….

On Tuesday, the company warned that its sales and margins for 2017 would be far lower than analysts expected. The stock tanked by over 30 points, its biggest loss of 2017, and currently sits nearly 75 points below the highs it saw immediately after our bearish warning.

How did we call this?

Our company, LikeFolio, uses Twitter (TWTR) data to discover insights into consumer behaviors. In this case, the insights revolved around how few consumers were walking into Chipotle stores.

The chart above shows Chipotle purchase intent mentions (green line) over the past five years. There are three areas to focus on to understand the methodology of our predictions:

  1. Blue Circle — This area in the fall of 2016 was showing purchase intent mentions firming up after a consistent drop throughout the year. This is what led us to issue our initial turnaround report in December of 2016. You can see the stock (grey line) rallied over 100 points in the months following as reports of increased same store sales began to come out.
  2. Red Circle — This drop is what told us the turnaround had not taken hold. Watching this drop as the new year turned, and fail to recover as we moved into spring, was enough for us to know that not only was there no turnaround at Chipotle, but that the bleeding wasn’t over. We warned, and Tuesday the company confirmed, that sales weren’t matching up to expectations, and the stock retreated back into the 410s.
  3. Purple Circle – Another drop in purchase intent mentions is currently underway, and tells us that Tuesday’s warning may not be the end of the bad news for Chipotle investors…

We’ll continue to keep a sharp eye on purchase intent mentions and other social data metrics for the company, especially as they begin to ramp up their marketing spending for the remainder of the year. It’s been a wild ride with Chipotle, and unfortunately for shareholders, the worst may not be behind them.

See also:

The Chipotle turnaround may officially be over

Why we predicted the Chipotle turnaround

Here’s evidence the Weight Watchers comeback is truly underway

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