McDonald’s Corporation grew from a California burger shack to stand among the giants of American capitalism thanks to three basic premises: low prices, reliable quality and fast service. But now, as the $88 billion global corporation faces more health-conscious consumers, the growth of “quick service dining” and an increasingly crowded U.S. market for fast breakfast, McDonald’s is having an identity crisis that’s hurting revenue.
“McDonald’s seems to have forgotten its core demographic is working parents who don’t have a lot of time and go after that Dollar Menu,” said Joshua Van Dress, chief investment officer at Able Capital Management, based in New York City. “Obviously something is going on in international sales and they’ve caught up to the fact that they should go back to their basic meal with that reliable 3.5 percent margin.”
The world’s largest fast-food chain has been suffering a global sales decline since July, helped along by an Asian meat-quality scandal and troubles in Russia, where U.S. and European sanctions led to Russian calls to kick the Golden Arches out of the country. Total sales revenue is down 5 percent in the first three quarters of last year. When McDonald’s reports financial results for the fourth quarter and full-year 2014 on Friday, investors could see the company’s first full-year decline since 2002.
The fast-food giant is expected to report fiscal fourth-quarter earnings of $1.21 billion, or earnings per share of $1.24, on revenue of $6.7 billion, compared with a profit of $1.4 billion, or earnings per share of $1.40, on revenue of $7.09 billion a year ago, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. For the full year, McDonald’s is expected to report $4.89 billion in net profit, a 12.7 percent decline from 2013’s $5.59 billion. Revenue for the year is expected to be $27.58 billion, a 1.9 percent drop from $28.11 billion the previous year.
The company’s share price (NYSE:MCD) was down 0.74 percent to $90.81 on Tuesday. It’s lost nearly 3 percent since the start of the year and 4.25 percent in the past 12 months. Globally, the company’s miscalculations are adding up. European sales were down 5 percent in the first three quarters of last year while sales in the Asia-Pacific region, Africa and the Middle East fell 10 percent in the same period.
Back at home, U.S. consumers are flocking to a relatively new trend in fast food called fast casual dining, exemplified by Shake Shack, Chipotle Mexican Grill and other restaurant chains that lure young consumers away from Quarter Pounders and french fries with the promise of fresher ingredients and some table service.
McDonald’s says it will simplify its massive menu this year, but at the same time it will continue trying to attract customers to its stores with “McCafés” in several markets. The company will also continue pushing its healthier menu options, like salads and apple slices.
Analysts question whether McDonald’s has abandoned its core business with ambitious adventures abroad, like serving McArabia shawarma sandwiches in the Middle East and spaghetti in the Philippines (an obvious nod to that country’s beloved Jollibee chain).
“I would be looking [in the quarterly conference call on Thursday] for trimming down in the Middle East and other markets they don’t fully understand, like China,” said Van Dress. “They should go back to what they know, what they had consistent profits with.”