McDonald’s Delivers Stronger Dividend and Franchise Model Focus

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When was the last time you remember shares of McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) being halted for “news pending” during the middle of a trading day? The fast-food giant has begun its investor day presentation and news has been coming out. An SEC filing showed a higher dividend, larger focus on franchises, cost cuts, running the business better and more. McDonald’s also reiterated that it expects positive fourth-quarter comparable sales in all segments.

For starters, McDonald’s will not create a real estate investment trust (REIT) for its extensive real estate assets. The move was considered too risky for a spin-off.

Another move is that McDonald’s now plans to have even more franchises than planned. That will move to a sale of roughly 4,000 company-owned stores, rather than the 3,500 units previously pegged. That is globally, through 2018, with a new long-term goal to become 95% franchised.

What investors may need to consider here is that shares of McDonald’s had screamed higher after the first wave of its management turnaround. The company has moved to a more core focus on its food, and it has expanded its breakfast hours all day, so you can that Egg McMuffin any time now.

The company is targeting a 5% dividend increase to $0.89 per share and the expense reduction in general and administrative costs was increased to $500 million. McDonald’s plans to optimize its capital structure to add debt and return capital of about $30 billion to shareholders in the three years ending in 2016. The vast majority of the incremental cash return of $10 billion will be funded by issuing additional debt.

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McDonald’s shares were up almost 1% in the past week, but the stock was up almost 10% in the past month (fourth best of the Dow). Shares were up over 15% in the past quarter (fifth best in the Dow) and up 23% year to date (third best in the Dow). And for yet another feat, shares of McDonald’s were last seen up 29% from its 52-week low.

Again, when was the last time you saw McDonald’s get halted for pending news in the middle of a trading session? This is just one of those companies that generally is considered steady-as-she-goes, up until recently.

The official quote from Steve Easterbrook, president and chief executive officer:

The cornerstone of our System is our powerful and enduring brand. While we are still in the early stages of turning around our business, we are gaining momentum by focusing on our customers and what matters most to them – hot and fresh food, fast and friendly service, and a contemporary restaurant experience at the value of McDonald’s. My priorities for McDonald’s as a modern, progressive burger company are three-fold: driving operational growth, creating brand excitement and enhancing financial value. We are taking bold, urgent action to reset the business and prepare the Company for the next chapter of its history.

Our turnaround depends on this: we must run great restaurants each and every day,” said Easterbrook. “We’re leveraging our competitive strengths: iconic menu items that customers love, a unique franchise model that empowers local entrepreneurs, size and scale that makes operational investments efficient, and a global, well-diversified geographic footprint. Together, these brand attributes provide McDonald’s with the foundation and capabilities for continued success.

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Chief Administrative Officer Pete Bensen added:

As part of the Company’s overall financial review, a Real Estate Investment Trust, or REIT, spin-off was closely considered given its potential tax advantages and current market trading multiples. Our review went beyond financial measures and evaluated the impact on all stakeholders, including our shareholders’ long-term interests. We have concluded that any potential value creation from a REIT is out-weighed by the significant financial and operational risks to our business and the continued progress of our turnaround, and we do not believe that pursuing a REIT would be in the best interest of McDonald’s at this time.