What Saved McDonald's Q3 Earnings Is Part of Company's New Growth Strategy

McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) reported third-quarter 2020 results before markets opened Monday. The fast-food restaurant chain posted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $2.35 on revenues of $5.4 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $2.11 on revenues of $5.5 billion. Third-quarter results compare to the consensus estimates for EPS of $1.90 and $5.4 billion in revenues.

Adjusted earnings of $2.22 exclude a $0.13 per-share gain related to the company’s sale of its shares in Japan. The sale reduced the company’s stake in Japan by about 3%.

Comparable store sales dipped 2.2% globally and U.S. comps increased by 4.6% in the quarter. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused sales to decline by 13% year over year over in the first nine months and EPS to fall 23%.

Sequentially, however, the third quarter was much stronger. In the second quarter, U.S. comparable sales dropped 2.3% and global comps fell by 12.3%. CFO Kevin Ozan attributed the improvement to the “3D’s–Digital, Delivery, and Drive Thru.”

In a separate announcement, McDonald’s outlined a new growth strategy that includes doubling down on its 3D initiative. The company said it will begin testing a new digital loyalty program soon and expects its digital sales to exceed $10 billion (about 20% of systemwide sales) in its top six markets by the end of next year.

In the delivery part of the strategy, McDonald’s noted almost 75% of the total population in its top markets live within three miles of a store and the company will use that to “meet customers’ evolving needs for speed and convenience.” Some 28,000 of the company’s approximately 39,000 stores worldwide now offer delivery service.

The third leg of the 3D strategy, Drive Thru, may have the biggest innovation of all, however: “a restaurant concept that offers drive thru, delivery, and takeaway only.” The company currently has a drive-thru at about 65% of its global locations and nearly 95% of its 14,000 U.S. locations.

McDonald’s recently raised its dividend by 3% to $1.29 per share, payable on December 15. The company paid out $931 million in dividends during the quarter, up from $877 million in the third quarter of last year. At the new dividend rate, the yield is 2.38%.

Since December 2019, the company has lifted its cash and equivalents from around $900 million to $3.68 billion. Long-term debt has increased in the same period from $34.12 billion to $35.14 billion.

Cash flow from operations rose from $2.29 billion to $2.94 billion, while cash used for investments fell from $1.18 billion to $268 million. Cash flow from financing rose from $1.58 billion to $2.27 billion.

The company said that nearly all its restaurants were open at the beginning of the third quarter and remained open at the end. Recent restrictions related to the pandemic, particularly in Europe, are expected to affect the business in the fourth quarter.

McDonald’s shares traded up about 1.3% early Monday to $219.30, in a 52-week range of $124.33 to $231.91. The consensus price target on the stock is $238.30.