Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is McDonalds a Low Price Offering?

McDonald's But Not as You Know it!

McDonald’s $MCD is a fantastic business that is firing on all cylinders. The recent results sailed ahead of estimates and the company is clearly grabbing market share from Yum Brands $YUM and other competition. However, is all of this fully priced in?

As a potential investment McDonald’s has a strong appeal due to a number of factors which I’ve listed below

  • From a macro-economic perspective it offers a play on austerity in developed markets as unemployment remains high and McDonalds offers a value meal proposition
  • Within Emerging Markets, McDonald’s has a ‘Western aspiration’ brand that benefits from rising disposable incomes and urbanization
  • McDonald’s has successful repositioned itself away from fast food junkies and leveraged its brand into launching newer healthier alternatives
  • Customers are-thus far-tolerating price increases but price pressures are increasing

Around a decade ago, McDonald’s made a master stroke in taking a strategic stake in PrĂȘt-A-Manger (in order to ‘learn’ how to service a different market) which has partly been behind the successful re-branding. Back then, it would almost have appeared inconceivable that McDonalds would be discussing the kind of product offerings and innovations that peppered the recent conference call. For example, beverage sales were up 29% and McCafe has seen far better than expected growth in sales per store. Premium chicken sandwiches, smoothies, oatmeal breakfasts and wraps are now alongside the traditional burgers, fries and milkshakes in the product mix.

Not only has McDonald’s successfully rebranding but they have managed to diversify and tailor the product offering to differing regions. Delving deeper into the Q2 numbers for regional sales reveals how this plays out

Q2 Comp Sales Increase
Q2 Op Inc Increase
5.2 %

Clearly, the US is the laggard in terms of both metrics, however, it is the most developed region for the company and it has been grabbing market share from Yum as its rival focuses on Emerging Market growth. Moreover, Europe is actually the biggest market for the company and these results represent strong execution.

Commodity Costs Coming

On a less positive side, commodity costs are on the increase and although customers absorbed them well, margins fell in all three regions for McDonald’s. This is an obvious concern-not least for the demographics of a typical customer- but also for future margin expansion. No one likes to be a business with challenged margins. However, I think that with slower growth, going forward, within emerging markets, we could see a moderation in things like beef prices, which could help out McDonald’s margins.

Wheat - Monthly Price (US Dollars per Metric Ton) - Commodity Prices - Price Charts, Data, and News - IndexMundi

In this report, the company saw cost increases of around 4-5% generally but that figure could come down going into next year. In addition, I think that the value proposition of McDonald’s means that demand should still grow even if the Asian economies start to slow.

International expansion

Turning to expansion plans for this year, here is a break down of where new store openings will be

New Restaurants for 2011
Latin America

APMEA is how the company bundles Asia Pacific with the Middle East. Within the APMEA numbers, new stores for China are 200 and 100 and 30 for Japan and South Korea respectively. It is a misnomer to suggest that only Yum are expanding in emerging markets!

McDonald’s Stock Evaluation

Frankly, I think it is fairly priced and would struggle to see much upside from here. I know most commentators are saying this, but that doesn’t mean I should force myself into thinking something different for the sake of novelty!  The opportunity for margin expansion does exist via lower food prices and the growth strategy looks assured but at a current price of $88.56 the stock trades on 17.3x forward estimates. This drops to 15.8x for 2012 but should investors pay this evaluation for two years out earnings, given that earnings growth ($5.6 from $5.12) is likely to be less than double digits?

I think the answer has to be negative. The yield at 2.9% is decent and it’s a decent stock to tuck away long term, but this evaluation doesn’t look cheap enough to me. I will monitor and hope for a dip.

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