In a press release Monday, McDonald's told investors its total same-store sales rose a better-than-expected 2.6% in May, which represents a significant improvement over April's dismal comparable-store sales decrease of 0.6%. This time around, the sales increases were led by a strong breakfast daypart performance in the United States, where McDonald's benefits from its more than 14,000 locations, and for which overall comparable sales rose 2.4%.
The chain's Europe segment also rose a respectable 2%, while restaurants located in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and Africa regions rose 0.9% as McDonald's shared Yum! Brands' (NYSE: YUM ) pain with negative results in China stemming from consumer fears over a recent outbreak of avian flu. Of course, as I noted in April, Yum! Brands was hit especially hard given the fact that it currently operates nearly 6,000 chicken-centric KFC restaurants in China, compared to the fewer than 2,000 McDonald's locations in the country.
Even so, the fact that Mickey D's most significant outperformance occurred where it really counts here in the U.S. leaves McDonald's stock hovering just 5% below its all-time high set just two months ago.
So what's helping drive these positive results?
First, McDonald's is on an all-out blitz to focus on what consumers actually want, most notably including healthier options at a decent price point. Then again, fellow Fool Brian Stoffel pointed out recently that improvements in fast food from a health standpoint have been minimal over the years. Still, few people truly believe they wouldn't be better off cooking more nutritious food at home than eating out, anyway.
What's more, McDonald's CEO Don Thompson has also strived recently to shift consumers' perceptions of McDonald's as a healthier place to eat, most notably by reminding us he's lost 20 pounds over the past year while eating at a McDonald's restaurant "every single day."
In addition, McDonald's has been tweaking its menu to remove some of the higher-priced, less popular items like the one-third-pound Angus burgers in favor of lighter fare in the form of less expensive Quarter Pounders and popular Chicken McWraps. These moves not only serve to reduce McDonald's costs, but also cater to its increasingly calorie-conscious customer base.
For the night owls
Finally, the folks at McDonald's are also working on improving the chain's market share in its weaker dayparts, including a new "After Midnight" menu that includes select breakfast items to be offered at an unspecified number of 24-hour McDonald's locations between midnight and 4 a.m.
Naturally, these new offerings could strike a blow to Yum! Brands, which has successfully driven same-store sales increases through its late night "FourthMeal" campaigns.
In the meantime, however, it's also worth noting that Yum! Brands could more than make up for any lost business to McDonald's given the Taco Bell owner's plans to roll out a new breakfast lineup nationwide by the end of next year. McDonald's investors, then, would be wise to keep an eye on whether Yum!'s breakfast menu performs well next year at McDonald's expense.
At least for now, though, McDonald's stock should be able to continue riding high as the company's current efforts to improve sales seem to be paying off.