Is McDonald's a Buy?

U.S. stocks are essentially unchanged this morning, with the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) and the narrower, price-weighted Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) down 0.06% and 0.13%, respectively, at 10:05 a.m. EDT.

Global shares, as measured by the MSCI World Index, are near the five-year high of 1,533 they set in May; the fact that U.S. stocks -- large-cap and small-cap alike -- are at all-time (nominal) highs is not incidental to that observation.

Dow article
Dow component McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) reported its results for the second quarter this morning, and they weren't encouraging. The hamburger chain earned $1.38 per share, falling short of analysts' $1.40 consensus estimate.

In the U.S., same-store sales (revenue generated at locations open at least 12 months) rose 1%. While that was in line with Wall Street expectations, it remains below the GDP growth rate over the same period.

CEO Don Thompson also lent a dour note to the outlook for the rest of year, stating that "based on recent sales trends, our results for the remainder of the year are expected to remain challenged." No wonder the shares are down 3% this morning.

But let's put things in perspective: That $1.38 in earnings per share represents 4.5% in year-on-year growth, which is exactly in line with what the S&P 500 is expected to achieve in the second quarter, based on the latest estimate. Furthermore, McDonald's second-quarter EPS estimate has been more stable than that of the index over the past several months, and I'm convinced McDonald's estimates for the rest of the year will also hold up better (on current estimates, the S&P 500 is expected to grow EPS by nearly 13% this year, which seems improbable).

McDonald's share performance had been tracking that of the index quite closely until this month; it now lags the behind the market by 8 percentage points:

MCD Chart

MCD data by YCharts.

Is this an indicator to value-oriented contrarians that they should begin looking at the shares? At 17.3 times the estimate for next 12 months' earnings, they trade at a premium to the S&P 500 (equivalent multiple: 14.6) despite their recent underperformance, but a certain premium is justified -- their is a higher dividend and a lower business risk. Still, the stock doesn't look like any particular bargain at the moment. McDonald's is a comfortable "hold," but no better than that. All the same, there may be an excellent reason to open a position in McDonald's today.

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