January 7, 2016 / 5:58 PM / 2 years ago

Out of flavor: Wall Street slashes targets on Chipotle

A logo of Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen on a store entrance in Manhattan, New York, in this file photo taken November 23, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/Files

(Reuters) - From the carnitas crisis of early 2015 to the more recent E. Coli outbreak. And now, tough love from Wall Street. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc’s (CMG.N) shareholders have never had it so bad.

At least six brokerages slashed their price targets on the burrito chain operator’s stock on Thursday, a day after the company said it was served with a grand jury subpoena related to a probe into a norovirus incident at one of its restaurants.

Chipotle’s stock, once a Wall Street darling, has lost a third of its value since the end of October, when an E. Coli outbreak linked to its restaurants was first reported.

The shares were down 1.6 percent at $420.02 on Thursday.

Chipotle’s announcement on Wednesday highlighted deepening problems at the chain, which has been plagued by a spate of food-borne illnesses among other issues since October.

Last year started on a sour note, when the company said it would not serve its popular “carnitas” at some restaurants after it found that a key supplier was not complying with its animal-welfare standards.

BTIG analysts on Thursday cut their price target by $134 to $530 and said the consistent negative news flow was keeping investors on the sidelines.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank, who cut their price target to $400 from $480, said until Chipotle identified the source of the outbreak, fundamentals would continue to remain challenged.

Barclays cut its target to $465 from $540.

“Given the series of negative headlines and outsized media/social attention, we believe the time frame for a complete Chipotle recovery is extended,” Barclays analysts wrote in a note.

Chipotle said on Wednesday it was further reducing its fourth-quarter same-store sales forecast, mainly due to media attention surrounding another norovirus incident at a Boston restaurant in December.

The company said it now expects same-store sales to fall 14.6 percent in the fourth quarter, its first ever decline.

Maxim Group analysts said on Monday it was unlikely that same-stores would become positive until 2017.

Despite all its problems, Wall Street analysts still have a largely positive outlook on the stock. Only two of the 34 analysts covering the stock have a “sell” rating. Thirteen recommend a “buy” or higher rating, while 19 a “neutral” recommendation.

While the median price target has fallen to $495 from $766 in the last 90 days, it is still well above the current stock price.

There were no changes in recommendations on Thursday.

Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

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