Why McDonald's is the perfect stock for 2012
The restaurant chain, which saw shares hit a new 52-week high Thursday, has strategies for both good times and bad.
The world's largest restaurant chain appeals to the budget-conscious consumer through its dollar menu and its value meals. People with more money to spend are buying more expensive items such as coffee drinks and premium chicken sandwiches. This dual strategy is working like a charm for the Oak Brook, Ill. company.
November comparable sales rose an astounding 7.4% on a global basis, surpassing the 5% gain expected by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Strong demand from China and Japan pushed sales in Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa up by 8%. U.S. sales rose 6.5%.
The interesting story, though, was Europe, which has gone from one financial disaster to another for the past year or so. Sales there jumped 6.5%, driven by strength in the U.K., France, Russia and Germany. Coincidentally, European officials today reported that consumer confidence in the eurozone had fallen for the sixth straight month. Of course, weakening economic conditions don't help McDonald's, but the company will prove as resilient as it's been throughout the Great Recession.
The allure of McDonald's inexpensive, tasty and not always nutritious fare is tough to resist. Cash-strapped consumers, particularly single parents, don't have the time to cook meals for their families because they are too busy working. Wealthier consumers patronize the chain because its menu items appeal to children and it offers nutritious fare such as salads. Parents worried about kids consuming too many Happy Meals always have the option of saying "no."
McDonald's fulfills a basic human need to eat outside the home. Cabin fever strikes everyone at one time or another. Cash-strapped consumers don't have to feel as though they are missing out. For example, someone who buys a cappuccino may switch to less expensive regular coffee if their budgets are tight. Devotees of the Quarter Pounder with Cheese will trade down to the McDouble or other fare on the dollar menu.
This explains why Wall Street analysts remain bullish on the stock even though it reached a 52-week high Thursday. Their average one-year target for McDonald's is $103.48, about a 5% upside to where it currently trades. That estimate may prove to be conservative given McDonald's history of outperformance.
Jonathan Berr owns shares of McDonald's.
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