Yum! Brands Inc. (YUM) is trading at a 52-week high in the first hour of Thursday’s U.S. session after Wells Fargo upgraded the stock. The holding company for Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC has suffered through a wild 2020, dumping to a four-year low in March and recouping 100% of those losses into November. However, it hasn’t recovered as quickly as rival McDonald’s Corp (MCD) and is still trading below September 2019’s all-time high near 120.
Pizza Hut Growth Stalls
Buying interest has also lagged Mickey D., with Pizza Hut’s U.S. growth stalling a few years ago due to massive competition for the popular fast food. The pandemic has stoked strong 2020 sales due to the explosion of delivery services but most analysts believe it won’t be sustainable. Meanwhile, Taco Bell and KFC are firing on all cylinders, posting sustained multiyear growth that defies the advice of nutritionists, professors, and other folks who care about our health.
Wells Fargo analyst Jon Tower upgraded Yum! to ‘Overweight’ on Thursday, noting “Coming out of a year unlike any other in modern history for the restaurant industry, we expect chains to benefit from pent-up demand and a consumer who is flush with cash to spend. We think this dynamic sets up particularly well for the casual dining space, with this sub-segment likely to see outsized benefits from independent closures, better in-store operating models, more efficient marketing spend, and a viable newer long-term sales channel”.
Wall Street and Technical Outlook
Wall Street consensus is mixed after a turbulent year, with a ‘Moderate Buy’ rating based upon 5 ‘Buy’, 6 ‘Hold’, and 0 ‘Sell’ recommendations. Price targets currently range from a low of $97 to a Street-high $125 while the stock has opened Wednesday’s U.S. session just above the median $108 target. Additional upgrades or positive commentary between now and the Feb. 4 earnings report could power a rally into the Street-high.
Yum! Brands has nearly filled the October 2019 gap between 103 and 110. The first sustained uptick above that hole will be highly bullish, raising odds the stock will cover the distance up to August 2019’s all-time high at 119.72. However, accumulation readings are stuck at lower levels and a breakout will set off a bearish divergence, raising odds for a failure. The most bullish scenario, given this configuration, will be rangebound action that gives new investors time to jump on board.
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Disclosure: the author held no positions in aforementioned securities at the time of publication.