Why McDonald’s Wants to Sell a Big Stake in Its Japan Business

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Had it not been for a solid fourth quarter, the world’s largest fast-food company, McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) would likely have shown no year-over-year profit growth. As it is analysts are expecting full-year revenues to drop more than 3% compared with 2015.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the company is currently seeking bids for a “significant stake” in McDonald’s Japan unit. The Tokyo-listed subsidiary has a reported market cap of around $3.5 billion, and McDonald’s owns just less than 50% of the shares. The U.S.-based company is shopping a 33% stake in the unit, meaning it would cut its own stake to less than 19%.

Earlier this week the company said it is selling an 80% stake in its China operations to a group that includes a number of Citic subsidiaries and the Carlyle Group L.P. (NASDAQ: CG). According to The Wall Street Journal, the sale would value McDonald’s Chinese business at $2.08 billion. The Citic companies would own a controlling 52% stake in the business and Carlyle, would own 28%. McDonald’s would retain the remaining 20%.

McDonald’s has been selling company-owned stores at a rapid clip over the past two years, with most of the buyers being franchise holders. Large sales like those of the China- and Japan-based variety are likelier to find buyers among private equity firms.

By 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal, McDonald’s expects to shed 4,000 company-owned stores to franchisees and wind up with corporate ownership of just 5% of the more than 36,000 global retail stores under the golden arches.

McDonald’s stock traded up about 0.3% in the noon-hour Thursday, at $121.19 in a 52-week range of $110.33 to $131.96. The consensus 12-month price target is $128.08.