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Jan 30, 2019

McDonald's investors shrug as U.S. sales grow, but not as fast

McDonald's loses 'Big Mac' trademark in Europe

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​McDonald’s Corp. reported a mixed bag in the fourth quarter: Global sales growth accelerated, but U.S. sales were shy of estimates, showing the impact of steep discounts across the industry.

Same-store sales rose 2.3 per cent in the U.S., just short of the estimate for a 2.4 per cent gain, according to Consensus Metrix. Globally, however, the measure topped projections -- a sign the company’s international strategy is paying off.

Key Insights

- Shares initially fell in early trading after the report’s release, perhaps showing investors’ concern with U.S. performance. Despite pushing forward with delivery, digital orders and remodeling stores to a more modern look, the company said its customer traffic was down in 2018 in the U.S.

- McDonald’s, like many of its competitors, is being pulled in both directions price-wise. It’s keeping discounted items to draw in customers, but hiking prices elsewhere to maintain margins. This caused the average customer check to grow, tempering the decline in visits.

- The company is betting big on store remodels in the U.S. to help lure in diners. The company made “substantial progress” on its store renovation program, Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook said. The cost of the revamps, however, has created some tension with franchisees.

- McDonald’s has topped earnings estimates in all but one quarter since 2015, and the company outpaced profit projections in the latest quarter as well. The streak may be difficult to maintain, however, in the face of wider economic issues: slowing economic growth in China and Europe and rising wage pressure and heightened competition in the U.S.

Market Reaction

- The shares were little changed in early trading in New York. Through Tuesday’s close, McDonald’s had climbed 2.6 per cent this year.

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