McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) issued a summary of its sales performance for 2004, and it's as deliciously addictive as a serving of the fast-food giant's golden fries (OK, I'm exaggerating a bit). Let's check out some of the numbers.

The McDonald's system as a whole achieved, on a global basis, a 12% increase (this is an as-reported figure -- taking into account currency effects, the increase was 7.8%). Not bad, considering that the as-reported figure for 2003 was an increase of 10.6% (or 4.9% with currency considerations). For 2004, comps for McDonald's restaurants on a global basis increased 6.9% as opposed to a 2.4% increase in 2003 (the comps do not include currency effects). For the U.S. segment, comps increased 9.6% versus 6.4% last year. Europe went up by 2.4%, reversing a decline of 0.9% in 2003. The APMEA (Asia/Pacific, Middle East, and Africa) territory turned a previous-year decline of 4.2% into an increase of 5.6% for this year.

Ronald & Company flipped a lot of burgers during the last calendar year; in fact, as Whitney Tilson mentioned in a recent column in which he self-graded his performance, they've flipped enough to make McDonald's the best performing stock in the Dow for all of 2004, appreciating 21%. Of course, burgers weren't necessarily the main focus of consumer attention; as Brian Gorman pointed out in an article on the company's ambitions to move in on Starbucks' (NASDAQ:SBUX) turf and offer some premium java, it was the shift to healthier grub such as salads and all-white-meat chicken strips that has helped to catalyze the improvement in margins and the growth in earnings.

So where does McDonald's and its stock price go from here? Well, I'm no clairvoyant, but I'm generally inclined to think that the company will continue to do well in 2005; there's some good momentum here with the earnings picture, and I've been impressed by the company's creativity and response to trends in the marketplace. However, let's not forget that competitors such as Burger King, Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM), and Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) can, at any moment, strike back and steal traffic from the chain with any number of initiatives. Plus, companies that have a great year oftentimes won't have a great enough follow-up to keep investors satiated, so whether the stock will do as well is anybody's guess. Take a gander at the one-year chart -- a graphic like that is almost screaming, "Hey, come on and take profits already!" A five-year chart might make the temptation even more vicious -- after all, that V might not be for "Victory" so much as for "Volatility."

Let's realize, though, that McDonald's is a bona fide blue chip. It certainly ranks up there with easy-to-understand concerns that are perfect for long-term dollar-cost-averaging schemes. It's also one of those stocks that can be socked away for the grandchildren in the hopes of giving them a large nest egg for when they themselves become grandparents. My one gripe with McDonald's -- and it is a big one -- is that it doesn't pay a quarterly dividend. Annual dividends annoy me, as they should anyone. I want my compounding to start right away if I'm in it for the long term. Disney (NYSE:DIS), one of my holdings, does the annual-dividend thing, and I can't stand it. It's definitely something to consider before investing, because there are plenty of quarterly payout players out there.

For more on McDonald's and other fast-food companies, order up some of these at the Fool drive-thru:

  • Jack in the Box (NYSE:JBX) decides to change its accounting menu.
  • Sonic (NASDAQ:SONC) is booming.
  • How much of a value does McDonald's represent anyway?

Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney.