We are bumping up short MCD to the Investment Ideas list.
MCD is under siege on three continents (America, Europe, Asia) and senior management's response to these crises will determine the future and the future profitability of this company. Hopefully we don't see a pattern of missteps similar to those that created one of the biggest public relations nightmares in the history of McDonald's.
Students of McDonald's history know that the "McLibel" case was a very dark period for McDonald's Corporation. This case was an English lawsuit for libel filed by McDonald's Corporation against environmental activists Helen Steel and David Morris over a pamphlet highly critical of the company. The litigation, drawn out over a ten-year period, embarrassed McDonald's and caused the U.K. business to underperform for more than a decade.
McDonald's is currently under attack from different groups over varying issues in three key countries across three separate continents. How management handles these issues will be critical to the future of the company.
- In the U.S., McDonald's (and other QSR chains) are under attack for poor wages and inferior food quality compared to other, more "fashion forward," restaurants.
- In Russia, the country's Consumer Protection Agency has filed a claim accusing the restaurant chain of violating government nutritional and safety codes in a number of its burger and ice cream products.
- In China, the meat supplier issue is creating serious issues in the form of availability and product quality concerns.
How management responds to these issues is critical to the future performance of the company, as they are not insignificant markets. If the company's initial response to the meat supplier issue is any indication, we could be in for an extended period of underperformance.
China - Last Thursday, McDonald's said it is sticking with a Chinese meat provider, even after saying earlier in the week that it may have been misled regarding sales of allegedly expired meat. The supplier is Shanghai Husi, which is owned by U.S. based OSI Group, a longtime supplier of McDonald's. Clearly, the company's ties to its Chinese supplier run deep. Today, however, news came out that McDonald's cannot sell its core menu items in China. China is the last bastion of growth for McDonald's and, prior to today's news, the company was not able to meet its unit growth targets.
Russia - We haven't seen any official response to the Russian lawsuit from McDonald's, but how they respond will be critical. Is McDonald's a pawn in the ever-increasing tension between the U.S. and Russia or did McDonald's bring on this pressure by shutting down its three restaurants in Crimea after Russia's annexation of the peninsula in March? Either way, McDonald's is in a very difficult spot. They need to settle this issue immediately and not let another legal case be played out in the press.
U.S. - Wages are headed higher for McDonald's in the U.S. and the company needs to get ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, being a franchised system, the issue is in the control of the franchisees. They won't want to pay higher wages with same-store sales and margins declining.
Turning back to the McLibel case, some of the leading allegations were that McDonald's:
- Wastes vast quantities of grain and water
- Sells unhealthy, addictive fast food
- Alters its food with artificial chemistry
- Exploits children with its advertising
- Is responsible for torture and murder of animals
- Poisons customers with contaminated meat
- Exploits its workers and bans unions
- Hides it malfeasance
McDonald's is a strong global brand that must protect itself against erroneous allegations. It appears that any one of these could be made again today. With that being said, how management proceeds with all the issues the company is currently facing will determine the financial performance of the company for the balance of the decade.