) shares rose Tuesday after the restaurant chain posted a 3.4% rise in February comparable store sales.
Bear Stearms reiterated its outperform rating. Analyst Joseph Buckley says sales growth was impressive given the severe weather, the impact of which company had estimated at negative 1.5% to 2.0%. February sales beat his estimate of flat-to-slightly negative comps.
Buckley notes that quarter-to-date same-store sales are up 3.8% for Applebee's-operated restaurants, 2.3% for franchised units, and 2.7% system-wide. Excluding the weather impact, he says comps were better than target of at least 3% same-store sales growth.
He has a $30 price target on the stock, based on 18 times his $1.68 2003 EPS estimate.