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February: A Tough Month for Stocks? Earnings Ahead – Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG), The Walt Disney Company (DIS)

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History indicates that February is a historically weak month for the equity market. In compiling data from January 1928 through November 2012, the average S&P 500 price return for February is -0.19%. This compares to average market returns of 1.46% in December and 1.26% in January, well above the average return for all 12 months of 0.58%.

The month of February following a Presidential election is also traditionally weaker than February months without a preceding Presidential inauguration. January 2013 was a great month for stocks, with the S&P 500 up 5% in part due to strong money inflows for the New Year. Finally, the bull market that began in March 2009 is turning four years old, increasing the risk that we enter a bear market in 2013.

As I keep a careful eye for any change in market sentiment, here are three companies I’ll be following that report earnings on Tuesday, February 5.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG)

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG)
Tuesday, Feb. 5 after market close; EPS $1.96 / Revenue $698.86 million

On January 15, Chipotle reported lower-than-expected preliminary earnings per share, stating it expected to earn between $1.92-$1.97 EPS versus consensus of $2.09 for the fourth quarter of 2012. The company also reported preliminary revenue of $699.2 million versus $690.86 million.

Long-term investors remember the earnings reaction following Chipotle’s second quarter 2012 results, when expectations got too high and the stock fell from $403 to $317 overnight, a loss of 22% in a single trading session. I feel that Chipotle’s pre-announcement takes the risk of a similarly strong reaction off the table.

Chipotle also announced the launch of its Catering platform on the same date, with a national roll-out planned in coming months. Catering is available in the company’s home state of Colorado beginning on January 21, where group sizes between 20 and 200 can customize their own meal similar to an in-restaurant experience.

On January 29, Bank of America Merrill Lynch stated they viewed the pre-announcement as a positive, allowing investors to have a better focus on long-term fundamentals. BofA/Merrill raised its price target to $350 on Chipotle, from a prior target of $310. In contrast, Jefferies & Co. continues to believe that Chipotle’s 2013 earnings could be “meaningfully below consensus.” The New York investment firm maintains an Underperform rating and $215 price target on the stock.

Investors will also be looking to learn more about Chipotle’s expectations for higher food costs in 2013 on today’s earnings call. The company’s co-CEO stated food costs “increased faster than expected in Q4.” Chipotle is one of several companies that have hinted at a peak in operating margins. Check back at for an article on this subject later in the week.

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS)
Tuesday, Feb. 5 after market close; EPS $0.76 / Revenue $11.21 billion

On January 23, B. Riley Caris upgraded Disney to Buy from Neutral with a $63 price target. The San Francisco, CA based research firm believes the company is set for a strong 2013 calendar year with its film business (upcoming films Oz the Great and Powerful) and good visibility looking ahead to fiscal 2014. Goldman Sachs also upgraded its sector view of the U.S. Media industry on January 22, which included an upgrade of media competitor Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB).

Overall, market sentiment is very positive on Disney heading into the company’s first quarter 2013 earnings release. The company received an additional boost of optimism from Stifel Nicolaus, which raised its price target on Disney to $63 from a previous $56 target. The research firm believes Disney may post a surprise profit at its studio & interactive business, where job cuts have reportedly taken place in recent weeks. Reuters originally reported that Disney was considering job cuts as part of an internal cost-cutting review program, with particular emphasis on jobs that are no longer needed due to technology improvements.

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