AP News

Ignite shares rise after KeyBanc upgrade to 'Buy'


NEW YORK (AP) — Shares of Ignite Restaurant Group rose Friday after a KeyBanc analyst upgraded the stock, saying that a recent sell-off was "overdone."

THE SPARK: Christopher O'Cull boosted his rating on Ignite to "Buy" from "Hold," predicting that the company's profits will eventually get a boost from its acquisition of Romano's Macaroni Grill.

THE BIG PICTURE: Houston-based Ignite, which owns Joe's Crab Shack and more than a dozen Brick House Tavern and Taps, on Wednesday posted an adjusted fourth-quarter loss of 15 cents per share, which was a penny larger than analysts polled by FactSet expected.

Revenue rose 11 percent to $112.6 million, slightly more than the $112.5 million Wall Street expected.

But the company also said in its conference call with analysts that it expects a 1.4 percent decrease in first-quarter revenue at restaurants open at least a year, saying its sales continue to be hurt by tough economic conditions. The metric is a key measure of a retailer's health, because it excludes sales at stores that recently opened or closed.

Ignite shares tumbled on the news and ended Thursday down 8 percent at $14.88.

THE ANALYSIS: "We believe the selloff is overdone, as we anticipate the Macaroni Grill acquisition will benefit 2014 earnings and cash flows more than expected," O'Cull wrote in a note to investors.

In February, the company announced plans to buy Macaroni Grill for $55 million in cash. The Italian casual dining chain competes with chains such as Olive Garden and Maggiano's.

O'Cull called Macaroni Grill's core menu "strong" with "compelling food at reasonable prices."

THE SHARES: Up 39 cents, or 3 percent, to $15.27 in afternoon trading, after peaking at $15.77 earlier in the day. Over the past 52 weeks, the company's shares have traded between $10.80 and $19.87.


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