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Grabbing a Bite in Burger Chain Stocks?: Yum! Brands, Inc. (YUM)

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In 2013, all restaurants in the food industry expect rising input pressure. This has been driven largely by an increase in the price of corn, a major food ingredient. With that said, the economy is generally improving despite signs of unrest in Europe. How will the large burger chains perform in this environment? Below, I review two key stocks to speculate on.

McDonald's (MCD)McDonald’s Corporation (NYSE:MCD)

Earlier this year, McDonald’s guided for a global drop in restaurant sales for the month of January 2013. This forecast was a a result of reduced consumer spending related to macro uncertainty. The forecast ultimately proved accurate in defiance to broader stock market trends. As the global leader in the burger chain industry, McDonald’s is seen as a macro bellwether.

In regard to external expectations, Wall Street has forecasted the company experiencing difficulties in early 2013 because of input pressure, rising competition, and increased frugality. Same restaurant sales remained flat globally throughout December, and this was attributed to the small 0.9% increase in same restaurant sales in the U.S. The increase in domestic sales is thought to have resulted not from strong fundamentals but rather from the warm weather that prevailed in December.

The firm has been facing stiff competition from other fast food restaurants, such as Burger King Worldwide Inc (NYSE:BKW). To add insult to injury, regressive payroll tax hikes have decreased the spending ability of McDonald’s target market. With that said, the firm has been successful in executing. In the recent fourth quarter, the company produced EPS that was $0.05 above the average forecast. Analysts are saying that in spite of the challenges that McDonald’s is facing, it is successfully leveraging its enormous size to stabilize business.

The Wendy’s Company (NASDAQ:WEN)

While dwarfed by McDonald’s, Wendy’s is a leading fast food restaurant chain. The company reported that their business strategy continues to be focused on driving same store growth. Wendy’s has also reported that they are committed to improving shareholder value by targeting growth in operating income and consolidated revenue. In particular, the strategy will be to make strategic acquisitions in the restaurant industry to drive growth (memo to Wendy’s management: This is inorganic growth; not same store sales growth).

In regard to the outlook, it is important to note that the Midwest part of the US is coming out of a drought, and this will lead to a reduced quantity of corn and a subsequent increase in prices. Analysts think that big restaurant chains like McDonald’s are better placed to withstand the effect of high prices compared to those like Wendy’s. But although Wendy’s has been facing some financial challenges before May 2012, it is now picking up the broken pieces and reported positive third quarter earnings in 2012. It reported revenue growth of 4.1% in the third quarter while same store sales grew by 2.7%. And market research through several independent surveys still ranks Wendy’s as a “top overall mega chain” and ranked Wendy’s at the top of the hamburger category. It is this kind of value that Wendy’s is trying to communicate through its aggressive marketing strategy.

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