McDonald's: When Golden Isn't Enough

There's no tarnish on the Golden Arches after McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) released its fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday. The fast food giant's profit rose impressively, and it announced plans to buy back more stock this year. But even so, recent rumblings suggest that some investors would like even more out of the company.

McDonald's said Q4 net income increased 53% to $608.5 million, or $0.48 per share. Net sales increased 4% to $5.23 billion, while same-store sales increased 4.2%. Comps have now risen for 32 consecutive quarters. Meanwhile, its European results, which have slumped recently, show signs of rebounding, thanks to better sales in France and Russia and improvements in Germany.

The company credits much of its continued success to new strategies that include menu changes, lengthened hours, and cashless payments. (Those of us who have ever gotten a craving for McDonald's after seeing one of its late-night commercials and -- whoops -- find we have no cash on us can appreciate the practicality of such moves.)

Meanwhile, though, there are certain investors thinking more about McDonald's real estate assets than about its Big Macs and fries. You may recall the buzz swirling around activist shareholder Pershing Square Capital Management -- the same shareholder that convinced Wendy's (NYSE: WEN  ) to spin off part of its Tim Hortons chain. Since last fall, Pershing Square has been pushing for McDonald's to do the same with its company-owned stores, with the goal of creating a separate company out of those stores so as to boost shareholder value. (Longtime Fool Bill Mann wrote about this strategy back in November.)

McDonald's has rejected Pershing's proposal -- it says its own current strategy will deliver more value to shareholders. The chain is planning a conference call for later today to discuss those growth plans. Meanwhile, McDonald's said that it plans to use $1.8 billion to open 800 new stores during the coming year and buy back $1 billion worth of stock.

It's been said before, and it's still true: While one can respect McDonald's impressive turnaround over the past several years, as well as the fact that it pays out dividends and is buying back shares, the stock doesn't present itself as a bargain these days, despite its impressive performance. Although it's definitely growing at the targeted rates it has set for itself, the long-term earnings outlook of 8.6% growth and a P/E ratio of 19 hardly make the stock look like a bargain. Today's numbers may have been perfectly respectable -- and it's worthwhile to note that a lot of the results were released earlier this month, too -- but for the time being, it looks like it's just more of the same at McDonald's.

Mathew Emmert targets stocks that pay dividends inMotley Fool Income Investor. Start up a free 30-day trial today by clicking here.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.


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