Why the Credit Suisse $165 Target on McDonald's Could Be Understated

McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) shares are holding just below its all-time highs after seeing incredible gains in 2017 alone. Currently this burger chain is the second-best performing Dow stock, with shares up about 25% year to date. As a result analysts have chased McDonald’s higher and with good reason.

Credit Suisse just issued a report about McDonald’s raising its price target, although the report seems lackluster. However, the firm did note that this could be understated and that the stock could have much more to offer in the rest of 2017.

The brokerage firm maintained its Buy rating and raised its price target to $165 from $157, which compares with a $151.94 prior closing price. While the stock may look expensive on an absolute basis, the firm noted that McDonald’s trades in line or at a discount to most of its franchise peers. Credit Suisse sees room for modest multiple expansion as franchise mix rises and same-store sales (SSS) potentially surprise to the upside.

Credit Suisse raised its second-quarter U.S. SSS forecast for the burger chain to +3.0% (from +2.5%), bringing the firm in line with consensus. SSS among its franchisee contacts have accelerated from the first quarter, with each month better than the last. Franchisees cited beverage value ($1 soft drink; $2 small McCafe) as a solid traffic driver (rolled out nationwide early April).

Franchisees indicated that investments in food quality and operations may now be translating into sustainable market share gains. As a result, Credit Suisse has increased confidence in the trajectory of McDonald’s U.S. business, which drove the firm to list its SSS estimates for the third quarter as well to +3.0% from +2.5%. The firm also adjusted its 2017/2018 EPS to $6.33 and $6.75 from $6.32 and $6.67, respectively.

As far as why the target might be understated, Credit Suisse has what it calls a Blue Sky scenario and that was raised to $175 from $165:

Our $175 blue sky target puts a 16.5x EBITDA multiple on 2018 EBITDA of $10.2bn (2% above our published EBITDA forecast). This scenario assumes 2017 global SSS accelerate to +3.5% or higher (vs. 3.0% on our current model), driving upside to restaurant and franchise margins, as well as investor sentiment.

Shares of McDonald’s were last seen down 0.4% at $151.31 on Thursday, with a consensus analyst price target of $153.79 and a 52-week range of $110.33 to $153.90.