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Jack on the Ball

By Seth Jayson
May 12, 2004

Promises, promises. We got a lot of them from Jack in the Box (NYSE: JBX) over the past few quarters. Restructuring, cost-cutting, reduced expansion… all were touted as ways to rejoin the burger wars, while the big firms, like McDonalds (NYSE: MCD), Wendy's (NYSE: WEN), and Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM) were already raking in solid gains.

Well, Jack flew out of the box this morning, surpassing even the optimistic upgrades made as recently as last month. The firm, which also pilots the Qdoba Mexican Grill chain, turned in $0.53 per share, blasting the $0.43 predicted in April. The reasons for the high-octane profit are everywhere, higher sales -- led by demand for new menu items like entree salads -- reduced costs, and reduced SG&A spending.

Perhaps best of all, comps increased a healthy 8.2%. Total revenues were up 12% to $517 million. Clearly, the folks are coming back to Jack.

The company continues its process of brand reinvention, though it remains mostly mum about the future financial benefits of its new JBX fast-casual concept, currently being tested and studied at two locations in California.

The company upped its guidance for the full year to nearly $2 per share, which would be $2.14 if you strain out the restructuring charges. That means the stock trades at a forward P/E of around 14, much cheaper than its above-mentioned peers do. Granted, there's some spooky-looking debt on the balance sheets, but with the turnaround already bringing in the cash, and a slim, targeted plan for the future, Jack in the Box looks like the tastiest stock in the quick-serve universe.

Jack in the Box is small, but Tom Gardner looks for even smaller prizes in Motley Fool Hidden Gems. Get a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson loves to eat, but he owns no stake in any firm mentioned. View his Fool profile here.

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