PAPA JOHN’S (PZZA) UP 10%, “IN PLAY” – WHAT TO DO NOW?

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PAPA JOHN’S “IN PLAY” – WHAT TO DO NOW?

We have written several articles regarding Papa John’s (PZZA) in the last sixty days, since John Schnatter became a persona non grata in mid July, the latest on 8/8 after he had been forced out and sales were disclosed to have been down double digits in July. You can read our commentary below:

July 17th, here:

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2018/07/papa-johns-pzza-the-latest-restaurant-situation-a-buy-or-a-sell/ – PZZA closed that day at $52.09

July 23rd, here:

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2018/07/papa-johns-pzza-should-you-be-long-or-short-this-one/ – we disclosed that we had bought the stock, PZZA closed that day at $46.56

and August 8th, here:

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2018/08/papa-johns-pzza-reports-q2-stock-down-again-how-bad-is-it/ – we reiterated our bullish position – PZZA closed that day at $38.94

Activist investor, Trian Fund Management LP, controlled by the well known Nelson Peltz, is one of a number of potential buyers who have indicated interest in acquiring Papa John’s. The company has retained investment bankers to “shop” the company, and it is not clear whether Trian’s interest, or that of others, is a result of that process.

In any event, the due diligence process is under way, and PZZA is trading up about 10% this morning to the $54-$55 per share. “Let the games begin.” While PZZA is still statistically cheap, relative to other franchising  companies, like Dunkin’ (DNKN), Restaurant Brands (QSR), Wendy’s (WEN) and (especially) Wingstop (WING), there are some unique uncertainties here, among which are:

  • To what extent John Schnatter, who owns about 30% of the stock will muddy the waters with his ongoing desire to be involved. To date, he has indicated an unwillingness to back away, but the company has already moved ahead without him in their corporate imagery.
  • Sales were damaged materially through the summer, and we do not know whether there has been any rebound, or stability at the very least. This is a top line business, and it would make a huge difference in terms of giving hope to potential buyers if sales have at least stabilized.
  • There are lots of class action lawyers around, ready to muddy the waters should a deal be announced, claiming, among other things, that the transaction is undervaluing the company.

On the other hand, as we pointed out in our previous articles, it is in the interest of all the major stakeholders to get a deal done, including John Schnatter. Unfortunately, Schnatter may not realize that yet, and it could take some more time for that reality to sink in.

Putting it together, we doubt that a deal will be done at much more than $60 per share, and the process could drag on for months. Should a transaction be delayed, or not seem likely, due to continuing weak sales or Schnatter’s requirements, PZZA could fall back to the high 40s.

Longer term, six months to a year out, or beyond, we think there is a likelihood that PZZA could trade a lot higher. Chipotle (CMG), for example, hired a new CEO, and, before anything much in terms of tangible results has even occurred, CMG is up over 50%. Relative to PZZA Over the next several months, with the foreseeable uncertainties, there is not much more upside potential than downside risk. We advise long term investors to stick with at least part of their position. Shorter term traders would be well advised to take partial profits, lowering their cost basis on the remainder.

Roger Lipton

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