MONEY Food & Drink

Chipotle CEO Freely Admits He’s Unsure About the Company’s Future

A restaurant worker fills an order at a Chipotle restaurant in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

And that's great news for investors.

When Chipotle Mexican Grill CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL INC. CMG -0.5247% released third-quarter results in October, the numbers were awe-inspiring.

Revenue jumped 31.1% year over year to $1.08 billion, helped by an amazing 19.8% increase in comparable-restaurant sales. Meanwhile, restaurant level operating margin climbed by 200 basis points to 28.8%, cash generated from operating activities rose 41.4% to $549.8 million, and net income increased a whopping 56.9% to $130.8 million.

However, the market was much less enthusiastic about Chipotle’s guidance, driving shares down 7% after the burrito maker called for 2015 comparable-restaurant sales to increase in the low- to mid-single digit range. During the subsequent conference call, analysts unsurprisingly grilled Chipotle management on exactly how they reached that range. After all, it seemed especially conservative considering Chipotle’s Q3 performance had just capped a six-quarter streak of accelerating comps growth.

Chipotle doesn’t have a clue

Here’s how Chipotle Chairman and co-CEO Steve Ells responded:

We don’t spend a lot of time trying to predict how we are going to leap over that number. What we do is, we take our current sales trends and we literally just push them out over the next 14 months — for the rest of this year and then for all of 2015. … This is the way we have always predicted comps. … [W]e really don’t have a magic approach or a crystal ball to predict how you are going to exceed like a 19% comp, for example.

Translation? Chipotle is happily ignorant when it comes to determining precisely what future comps will be. The company simply extrapolate sales trends out, as it always has, to get a rough ballpark figure of what the coming year might look like.

Why this is a great thing

And to be honest, though that might seem unsettling, I think Chipotle investors should be perfectly happy with this approach for two reasons.

First, though it’s true comps give us an idea of how effectively Chipotle is drawing in new customers and keeping them coming back for more, it’s far from a perfect metric to gauge the long-term prospects of the business. Comps tend to naturally ebb and flow with irregular events like price increases, as well as difficult (or easy) year-over-year comparisons. In the end, I’m relatively unconcerned that Chipotle’s not-so-scientific approach at modeling comps predicts it may finally decelerate growth from 19.8% — which, by the way, was its best result since going public in 2006.

On the other hand, I suppose near-term disappointments with comparable-store sales do create buying windows for opportunistic investors.

Second, note Chipotle is focusing on what really matters instead. Ells elaborated:

We are constantly working on improving our customer experience, we are constantly working on improving our people culture, and we are constantly looking to upgrade the quality of our ingredients. … So we are constantly working on the things that will enhance the dining experience. And over the years it has paid off, so that when we do a good job, when we have great teams, and when they do a good job of providing a great dining experience, customers want to come back to Chipotle more often.

Notice nowhere in that comment were actual comps mentioned. Rather, Ells has a singular focus on improving the Chipotle experience for customers, from fostering its amiable culture all the way down to improving the quality of its already excellent food.

In short, he’s thinking about Chipotle Mexican Grill not just as a stock ticker or piece of paper, but rather as the living, thriving, growing business it truly is. From an investor’s standpoint, it’s hard to think of a better way to create shareholder value than that.

MONEY Student Loans

The Surprising Downside of Steering Clear of Student Loans

Headlines about daunting student loan burdens may leave you scared to borrow altogether. But a college degree is worth the investment, even if that means taking on some debt.

The next generation of college students has heard the message loud and clear about the perils of taking on too much student loan debt—so much so that many are unwilling to go into debt at all in order to attend college.

The drawback to this wariness is that for those who do not borrow, they are unlikely to get four-year degrees.

The vast majority of people aged 16-19 recognize the importance of a college degree, but most say they either want to avoid education debt entirely or to limit their borrowing to nominal amounts, according to a recent survey by Northeastern University of 1,000 teenagers nationwide.

About a quarter of those polled said they want to remain debt-free, while 45% felt they could afford to pay a maximum of $100 a month, which at current interest rates means borrowing no more than about $10,000.

That amount would not cover a single year at many public four-year colleges, even after financial aid is taken into account.

The problem with not borrowing is that most families do not have nearly enough saved to pay for college. About half of U.S. families are not saving for their children’s educations at all, according to a survey by Sallie Mae. Among those who are, the average amount saved is around $15,000. (To see if a school you’re interested in is worth borrowing for, see MONEY’s rankings of the Best College Values.)

Meanwhile, some commonly recommended ways to cut costs—such as starting at a community college or working your way through school—dramatically increase the chances of a student dropping out without a degree.

One recent study found a 17-percentage-point difference in bachelor’s degree completion between those who start at a four-year college and those who start at a two-year school intending to transfer.

Another study found that those who work 30 hours a week or less, excluding work study, were 140% more likely to graduate college within six years than those who worked more.

Now no one expects teenagers to be financially savvy. Many do not understand the difference between bad debt that can sink their finances and good debt that can help them get ahead. The trouble comes when teenagers make an all-or-nothing decision based on their ignorance.

That is true for those who will spend anything to get their degree and those who are so averse to debt they will borrow nothing.

The nuance that the debt-avoiding teens are missing is that those sob stories about unemployed or barely employed college graduates with six-figure student loan debt are very much the minority. (Still, see how you could end up with a six-figure debt for film degree here.)

Even though student loan debt is rising, just 7% of borrowers take out more than $50,000, according to the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy. Only 2% take more than $100,000.

The average debt at graduation for bachelor’s degree recipients is $33,000, said Mark Kantrowitz, author of Filing the FAFSA and publisher of Edvisors.com, a higher education resources site.

That amount may seem formidable, but for most graduates it is not.

“If total student loan debt at graduation is less than the annual starting salary, the borrower will be able to repay his or her student loans in ten years or less,” Kantrowitz says.

For most graduates, that’s the case. The average starting salary for new college graduates this year was $45,473, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, ranging from a low of $38,365 for humanities and social science majors to a high of $62,719 for engineers.

Even larger debts may not be cause for concern. About a quarter of the increase in student loan debt comes from rising levels of education—more people attending graduate and professional schools.

Advanced degrees typically confer higher incomes, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Master’s degree holders can expect to earn $2.7 million over a lifetime while professional degree holders can expect $3.6 million.

That compares to the $2.3 million someone with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn and the $1.3 million expected earnings for those with only a high school diploma.

Of course, not everyone needs or wants a four-year degree. The payoff for a two-year associate’s degree from a community college—an education mostly covered by that $10,000 in borrowing—can be considerable. The Georgetown researchers figured an associate’s degree-holder can expect to earn $1.7 million over a lifetime. What’s more, 28% of associate’s degree make more than the median earned by a four-year degree holder.

For most people, though, the investment in a four-year degree will pay off handsomely in terms of higher incomes and lower unemployment. An unreasonable fear of debt should not be the deciding factor between a good education and something less.

 

TIME Earnings

Uber Reportedly Valued at $40 Billion by Investors

Uber
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Uber’s PR troubles are not scaring off investors

On-demand ride service Uber is raising new funding at a valuation of between $35 billion and $40 billion, according to a new report from Bloomberg. This would be one of the richest “venture capital” rounds in history (Facebook still holds the crown), and likely mean that investors expect Uber to eventually go public at a valuation of at least $100 billion.

T. Rowe Price reportedly is in talks to come aboard as a new investor, while existing shareholder Fidelity Investments also would participate.

There have been market rumors that the round would be structured as convertible debt rather than preferred equity, although those rumors also were married to a $25 billion valuation. If the price has changed, so might have the security type.

It also is unclear if the round — which Bloomberg reports is designed to raise at least $1 billion — would include any so-called secondary sales by Uber employees or early investors. Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick is on record as saying that, to date, he has never sold any of his stock in the company.

Uber last raised money earlier this year, when it secured around $1.2 billion at a $17 billion pre-money valuation. Since then, it has experienced massive growth and more than its fair share of controversy. Just last week, a company executive floated the idea of creating an opposition research arm to dig up dirt on critical reporters, while another Uber executive was accused of improperly accessing and displaying a specific user’s data.

In addition to Fidelity, existing Uber shareholders include Benchmark, First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital, Menlo Ventures, Google Ventures, TPG Capital, Summit Partners, Wellington Management, BlackRock and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Media

Spotify Still Doesn’t Make Any Money

SWEDEN-MUSIC-COMPANY-SPOTIFY
This photo illustration shows the Swedish music streaming service Spotify on March 7, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden. Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images

Music streaming service lost $80 million in 2013

Music streaming service Spotify likes to crow about how it hands 70% of the revenue it generates right back to artists in the form of royalty payments. Such a massive expense has led the company to be wildly unprofitable in recent years — but Spotify may be slowly crawling its way out of the red.

A new regulatory filing released in Luxembourg shows Spotify had revenues of 747 million euros (around $1 billion) in 2013, up 74% from 2012, according to The New York Times. The startup posted a loss of $80 million, but that was smaller than its $115 million loss in 2012.

Spotify has long claimed that as it gains more users, it will be able to both pay artists more handsomely and begin earning some profits itself. The company’s financial trends indicate that the plan may actually work, assuming they can keep adding new users at a steady clip.

But Spotify’s biggest threat is growing dissatisfaction in the music industry with the service’s free tier, which allows users to listen to Spotify’s entire song library while hearing a few ads in between tunes. It was this free offering that compelled Taylor Swift to remove her catalogue from the streaming service, while a Sony Music executive recently expressed concern that the free version of Spotify might deter people from signing up for paid subscriptions. The new financial figures show why Swift and others are wary of the ad-supported model: Spotify made just $90 million in revenue from its ad business in 2013, less than 10% of its overall revenue. That’s despite the fact that free users outnumber paid users on Spotify by about four to one.

Spotify maintains that many free users are eventually converted into paying customers, so the free offering serves as a valuable gateway. But it’s likely that industry players are going to become increasingly fixated on the growth in paid subscribers instead. That’s where the money is.

TIME Companies

Apple’s Market Cap Just Hit $700 Billion for the First Time

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
People attend the Apple keynote at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts at De Anza College on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The number has doubled since Tim Cook took over as CEO from Steve Jobs three years ago

Apple hit a major symbolic milestone Tuesday morning as its market capitalization topped $700 billion for the first time.

The tech giant’s market cap has doubled since Tim Cook took over as CEO three years ago when Steve Jobs stepped down from the role. The company’s stock has hit several new record highs lately on the heels of September’s wildly successful launch of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Apple shares have jumped by 21% since the company unveiled the new smartphones at a product event that also heralded the arrival of the much-hyped Apple Watch and the new Apple Pay mobile payments system.

The Apple Pay service became available last month, while the Apple Watch will go on sale in 2015.

But, the latest iterations of the iPhone have been driving up the company’s value since they went on sale in September and posted a record opening weekend by selling more than 10 million units. Apple is expected to keep selling those phones at a swift pace over the holiday season, with at least one analyst forecasting 71.5 million iPhone shipments in the fourth quarter.

At this point, Apple’s market cap is higher than the gross domestic product of all but 19 of the world’s countries, coming just behind Saudi Arabia (GDP of $745 billion) and ahead of Switzerland ($650 billion), according to data compiled by the World Bank.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Retail

Shoppers Just Don’t Care About Credit Card Hacks

Major Retailers Begin Black Friday Sales Thanksgiving Night
People shop at a Target on Thanksgiving night November 22, 2012 in Highland, Indiana. Tasos Katopodis—Getty Images

Target and Home Depot both reported great earnings reports this week

If Target and The Home Depot are still reeling from the collective breach of 96 million customers’ credit and debit cards, it didn’t show in either company’s earnings reports this week.

Target posted $17.73 billion in revenue on Wednesday, beating one Wall Street consensus forecast by $17 million. That paled in comparison to Home Depot’s rosy earnings report on Tuesday, which showed store sales in the U.S. climbed by 5.8% in the third quarter. Breaches? What breaches?

Target’s dataclysm receded into the rear view mirror as the company revealed that expenses related to a credit card data breach late last year had plateaued at $153 million. The market rallied around its stock, driving up the share price by more than 6%. The Home Depot’s breach, though, was bigger and more recent. The verdict?

“We believe the breach is firmly behind [Home Depot] with momentum heading into 4Q,” wrote J.P. Morgan analyst Christophers Horvers. That assessment comes two months after Home Depot’s September announcement that 56 million credit card accounts had been hacked and upwards of 53 million email addresses were stolen. The only major business fallout for the company, as far as analysts could detect, was a curious blip in traffic toward Home Depot’s chief competitor, Lowe’s. “Perhaps the breach provided some traffic benefit,” Horvers speculated, before moving onto the retailer’s solid sales growth.

If neither shoppers nor shareholders ultimately punish big businesses for data breaches, will companies move to prevent them before they occur?

“In the end, the market’s behaving completely rationally,” says Avivah Litan, a security analyst for Gartner. “It’s still a pain in the neck for everyone, but there’s very little actual fraud committed as a result of these breaches.”

Litan says that hackers like those who pilfered credit card numbers at Target and Home Depot typically have a very short window of opportunity — less than one month — to rack up fraudulent charges before banks detect the suspicious activity. These heists tend to run in the range of $10 million, and shoppers rarely ever bear the costs. Instead, banks split the sum with the affected retailer, where any remaining cash vanishes into the fine print of the company’s quarterly earnings reports.

The real question, then, is why credit card hacks continue to make front page news. In the grand scheme of online theft, Litan says, what happened to Target and Home Depot shoppers is small potatoes — identity thieves have pulled off heists at ten times the scale of credit card fraud by going after medical and tax records. However, credit card hacks on retailers get lots of public attention because so many people can be affected so quickly.

“Stealing 50 million cards is just as easy as stealing 100 cards,” Litan says. The sheer number of stolen cards conjures up an image of a whole nation of shoppers exposed and helpless. But these crime stories tend to end with about as much drama as a third quarter earnings report.

TIME Money

Millennials Will Make These 15 Companies Tons of Money

Bags of tortilla chips sit in a row at a Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. restaurant in Hollywood, California on July 16, 2013.
Bags of tortilla chips sit in a row at a Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. restaurant in Hollywood, California on July 16, 2013. Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg / Getty Images

Where Millennials choose to spend their money could pay off serious dividends

The question on every Wall Street trader’s mind these days: “What do millennials like?”

Or at least it should be, according to a new report released Tuesday by Morgan Stanley’s equity strategy team. The report paints a pretty compelling picture of the millennial generation’s spending power five years out.

First, in terms of sheer size, millennials outnumber baby boomers as the largest demographic group. But more importantly, they are aging into some of the spend-happiest years of their lives. In the average lifecycle of the American shopper, spending tends to spike between the ages of 25 and 39:

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 3.54.45 PM
Morgan Stanley Research

 

Where they choose to spend that money could pay serious dividends to a few savvy stock pickers. Which brings us back to the question, “What do millennials like?”

“Fast casual dining, hotels, buying online, gaming (social and online, less so casinos), eating organic and healthy, and working out more,” writes Morgan Stanley’s consumer stock researchers. They winnowed down a shortlist of 15 companies that hit those millennial sweet spots, and presented them as a “millennial basket” for investors’ consideration before the flood:

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 3.52.44 PM
Morgan Stanley Research

 

 

 

 

MONEY Health Care

The Hidden Financial Benefits of Keeping Yourself Fit

running shoes hovering over a scale
Geir Pettersen—Getty Images

Investing in fitness can generate financial rewards as well as health benefits.

You know exercise is good for you. What you may not know is that working out can have financial benefits too.

Plenty of research suggests that overweight people spend more on health care, but it’s not just the thin who stand to save. Fact is, regardless of your weight, if you’re a couch potato you’re likely missing out on earning and saving opportunities.

The Payoff in Your Paycheck

Health care costs aren’t the only way physical activity is a benefit. People who work out regularly, as in at least three times per week, are more productive at work than those who don’t, according to research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Those who get sufficient exercise also miss fewer workdays, according to the same study. Those absences can translate to lost income and lost opportunities for advancement.

Another study published in the Journal of Labor Research found that men who work out regularly can expect to make 6% more than their sedentary counterparts, on average. For women, the pay boost is higher: Fitness-savvy females make 10% more, on average.

A Nudge From the Boss

If you’re not already working out, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to start.

For starters, some employers just flat-out pay their employees to work out as part of workplace wellness initiatives. For example, IBM offers cash to employees who meet certain fitness goals. Employees at Google and Zappos can use on-site fitness classes and facilities, enabling them to skip membership fees at traditional gyms. Even if your company doesn’t currently offer wellness benefits, it might soon: Under the Affordable Care Act, employers can receive grants to get one started.

Your employer may have a deal worked out with a local gym where employees can get discounted rates. Even if your company doesn’t offer such an incentive, chances are that your health insurance provider does. UnitedHealthcare offers reimbursements of $20 per month to members who use one of many participating gyms, while Blue Cross Blue Shield has worked out a $25 membership fee for their members at over 8,000 gyms nationwide. These insurance giants aren’t the only ones in on the game—most health care insurers offer some type of fitness benefit for members.

Just Do It

On the other hand, skipping the gym altogether may be your biggest money saver. If a participating fitness center isn’t available near you, or you’re just not the gym-going type, there are plenty of ways to get in shape for free. You can use the myriad online videos in the comfort and privacy of your own home, such as those offered on Bodyrock.TV or YouTube’s workout channel. If you like mobile apps, try Daily Workouts free app, or iPump. If you’re close with your co-workers you can start a lunchtime walking group. Your boss may just end up rewarding you for it.

Read more from NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care and lower their medical bills.

TIME Earnings

Urban Outfitters’ Profits and Shares Tumble

Shoppers walk outside Urban Outfitters on Dec. 14, 2013 in London.
Shoppers walk outside Urban Outfitters on Dec. 14, 2013 in London. Dan Dennison—Getty Images

Same-store sales fell 7% at the namesake brand, which courted controversy in the third quarter

Urban Outfitters reported record third-quarter sales, but the clothing company’s profits fell year-over-year as it’s namesake brand courted controversy. Here are some of the key points from Monday’s third-quarter earnings report.

What you need to know: Quarterly sales for Urban Outfitters — whose brands also include retailers Anthropologie, Free People and Terrain — increased by 5% year-over-year, to $814 million, but sales at the company’s namesake brand fell by $1.5 million. What’s more, same-store sales across the company dipped 1% after analysts predicted they would be flat for the quarter.

Urban Outfitters also reported a quarterly profit of $47 million, or 35 cents per share, which is down nearly a third year-over-year. Shares of the company fell almost 5% in after-hours trading following the release of the earnings report. The company’s stock has tumbled nearly 17% since the start of the year after profits through the first three quarters of the year have dropped 22% year-over-year, to $152 million.

CEO Richard Hayne said in a statement that he is “disappointed by the results at the Urban Outfitters brand.”

The big number: Sales for the Urban Outfitters brand dropped again, offsetting gains from some of the company’s other brands. Same-store sales for the namesake brand fell 7% in the third quarter after dropping 10% in the previous quarter.

The Urban Outfitters brand recently suffered through a social media firestorm after the retailer put a bloodstained Kent State University sweatshirt for sale on its website, drawing connections to the 1970 student massacre at that school. The item was removed from the website after much public outcry, but the incident was just the latest for a chain that previously peddled a women’s t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Eat Less,” which critics said was an inappropriate swipe at people with eating disorders.

It is hard to say whether or not the controversy adversely affected the brand’s sales in the third quarter, especially since same-store sales took an even bigger hit the previous quarter, but Hayne clearly thinks improvement is needed at Urban Outfitters stores.

“There is much work to be done to improve the merchandise margins and store performance at the Urban brand, but I see positive signs as shown by strong results at the brand’s direct-to-consumer channel,” the CEO said.

What you might have missed: Once again, the poor performance by Urban Outfitter stores overshadowed positive news from the company’s other divisions. Same-store sales at Free People jumped 15% in the quarter while the Anthropologie got a 2% bump. Same-store sales at the two chains were also up in the second quarter: 21% and 6%, respectively.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY Jobs

Why The Lowest Paid Workers Are Getting a Raise—And The Middle Class Isn’t

"Save the Middle Class" on a sign
Jen Grantham—iStock

Low-wage workers are making more money, but wages continue to stagnate for the middle-class. Here's why.

If you’re a working adult, you probably haven’t received much of a raise in recent years. Earnings growth has declined dramatically since 2007, and wages bounced back only 2% this year, barely keeping pace with inflation. In October, wage growth was essentially static.

But we may be seeing light at the end of the tunnel, at least for some employees. Over the weekend, payroll processing firm ADP released data showing that the average hourly pay for low-wage workers — that is, those making less than $20,000 a year — increased by 5.4% in the last year, and that workers earning between $20,000 and $50,000 saw pay jump 4.9% on average.

As USA Today noted on Sunday, ADP’s methodology tends to overestimate earnings growth because it tracks only employees of businesses that can afford to contract with the company. The firm also reported that earnings for all Americans were up 4.5% in the third-quarter year-to-date; more than double the increase was reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in October for 2014.

But while ADP may have overestimated earnings growth among low-wage Americans, that doesn’t mean that group isn’t getting better raises than the rest of the population. The paper also observed that data from the BLS showed the bottom 10% of earners received a 3% hike in wages for the year ending on September 30, compared to a 0.5% raise for the 90th percentile.

Why do low-wage workers seem to be getting raises when the middle-class is not? According to Eugenio Alemánm, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, the answer is employment polarization. As the St. Louis Federal Reserve explains, this phenomenon describes how the automation of many routine tasks has decreased demand for middle-skill, middle-income labor, while increasing demand for both low-skill, low-wage workers and high-skill, high-wage workers. This trend was exacerbated by the great recession, and resulted in a hollowing out of the American labor force.

Higher wages for low-skill workers simply reflects higher demand for that particular class of laborer. High-wage employees have also seen a disproportionate increase in earnings during the recession compared to the middle-class.

“One of the characteristics of the current economic recovery is that we are seeing a lot of jobs in the very, very low levels of income, very low paying jobs, and very strong movement in the high paying jobs,” said Alemánm. “Those are the two sectors that seeing some upwards pressure on wages and this data is a confirmation of that.”

“Middle income jobs are not being offered in this economic recovery, so there is no pressure on those salaries,” added Alemánm. “The type of jobs that are being offered today”—which he says mainly exist in the leisure, hospitality, and retail industries—”are not conducive to having middle-income earners.”

Will the middle-class ever see some relief? Alemánm says yes, recent job growth is likely to exert upward pressure on wages across the board — but it’s hard to tell when that will happen for the majority for workers. “At some point, it has to change,” he predicts. “You’ll see some spillovoer into middle-income wage earners. That is the third leg we are waiting for.”

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