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Brinker: EAT at Chili’s

Brinker owns, operates and franchises 1,622 Chili’s and 52 Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurants.

Image via Mike Mozart/Flickr CC

As stocks climb higher, it becomes tougher to find great values in the market. But it certainly is not impossible. The S&P 500 now sells for 25 times prospective earnings. Historically speaking, that’s pretty rich, notes Mark Skousen, editor of High-Income Alert.

But there are some fine companies selling at a significant discount to the market. One of them is Brinker International (EAT). Based in Dallas, Brinker is one of the world’s leading casual-dining companies.

The company owns, operates and franchises 1,622 Chili’s and 52 Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurants. It serves more than one million guests in 31 countries every day.

The Chili’s menu boasts “Fresh Tex” — steaks, baby back ribs and craft burgers — and “Fresh Mex” — fajitas, Mexican bowls and top-shelf tacos. Maggiano’s Little Italy specializes in classic Italian cuisine served in a warm and friendly atmosphere.

EAT’s sales and earnings were lower in the most recent quarter. The stock trades for approximately half of what it did two and a half years ago.

But take a closer look. Consider that 17% of Brinker’s stores are in oil-producing regions. When energy prices cratered a year ago, fewer people in these towns were eating out.

Oil prices have doubled since then. And the stock market is signaling that even stronger economic growth lies just ahead. That means Wall Street’s earnings estimates of $3.24 a share this year and $3.44 next year could easily prove too conservative.

Meanwhile, the stock is extraordinarily cheap at just half of sales, 11 times trailing earnings and less than 10 times prospective ones. You’ll also collect a generous 4.75% dividend here.

Chili’s has made value pricing — including a three-course dinner for $10 — its key strategy to bringing customers back. The firm is also enhancing its online ordering process to boost its takeout business.

The stock looks ripe for an upside surprise. Especially since the company is aggressively buying back its own shares. In the past six years alone, the total shares outstanding have shrunk by 45%.

And with a market cap of less than $1.6 billion, Brinker is also undervalued based on its real estate holdings. It could easily become a takeover target, especially for value-oriented private equity investors.

Someone who apparently agrees with my optimistic assessment is Director Michael A. George. This month he bought 16,450 shares at $30.31 for an investment of $498,600. In short, Brinker is an undervalued bargain — with telltale insider buying — in an increasingly pricey market.

Mark Skousen is editor of High-Income Alert.

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