Wall Street's Mixed Views on Easterbrook's Firing as CEO of McDonald's

Jon C. Ogg

McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) was trading lower as the worst stock on the Dow Jones industrial average on Monday, a day where the Dow and S&P 500 hit all-time highs, after the company fired CEO Steve Easterbrook over an improper relationship with a company employee. The news announcement was made over the weekend, and that gave Wall Street plenty of time on deciding how this might impact the ratings and outlook of the company. Its shares had been indicated down by less than 2% at the start of the day, but the shares were down over 3% shortly before the close.

With the announcement that Easterbrook would take a 26-week severance pay package, and with him accepting to not work at another fast-food company for a period of two years, there are some mixed reactions that have been seen in the vestment community since the news broke.

Piper Jaffray was critical of McDonald’s, downgrading the king of fast-food to Neutral from Overweight and lowering its target price down to $195 from $224. The firm cited risks of momentum disruption and operational risk.

Citigroup maintained its Neutral rating and lowered its target down to $216 from $221 in its call.

MKM Partners remained less concerned and maintained its Buy rating while cutting its target down to $225 from $240.

Credit Suisse also seemed to be less concerned about the news. The firm maintained its Outperform rating and maintained its $230 target price. Credit Suisse noted that shares would likely be under pressure on the news as Easterbrook was highly regarded in the investment community and among franchisees. With a talented team behind him, and with Kempczinski having co-authored the Velocity Growth Plan and being instrumental in the development of and implementation of its future growth drivers, the firm sees any material pullback in the stock around the CEO change as a buying opportunity.

Merrill Lynch maintained its Buy rating and it has a $230 price objective. The firm noted that Kempczinski will need to set a post-2020 strategy in the coming months to get McDonald’s beyond the end of the Velocity Growth Plan.

McDonald’s shares had already peaked at just above $220 in August, and it had not performed well in the last couple of weeks. That said, the shares were closer to $97.50 (adjusted) when he took over as CEO, so the shares had risen about 125% under Easterbook’s tenure before the latest post-earnings drop.

It was at $193.94 ahead of Easterbrook’s termination, and the shares were down 3.2% at $187.75 shortly before the closing bell on Monday. Its 52-week trading range is $169.04 to $221.93.