Is Yum! Brands, Inc. (YUM) A Short?

With all the uncertainty around China, should Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM) be a short candidate? Perhaps not enough downside risks have been built in for Yum!’s exposure to China, where over 50% of revenues are generated.

Yum! Brands (YUM) Never Expected Being Slapped With a Rubber Chicken

The recent news driving Yum! down was the fact that KFC China’s suppliers overloaded their chicken with chemicals to expedite growth. Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM) remains unsure about how long it will take to recover sales at KFC in China, with management expecting weakness in China to deliver an expected drop of 25% in same store sales for the first quarter of 2013.
This recent event might be unveiling a bigger issue: brand erosion in China. Not only this, there are other regulatory issues related to operating in China. The slowing Chinese economy will also put pressure on the company, all of which have compelled management to offer guidance of a low to mid-single digit earnings per share decline in 2013, as opposed to its long-term target of at least 10% earnings growth.
While shorting any stock is risky, given that there’s limited upside and unlimited downside, I would rather avoid Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM) and invest in one of the other top performing fast food chains. The question is, which one?
Fast food frenzy
Jack in the Box Inc (NASDAQ:JACK) posted an EPS of $0.54 last quarter, versus $0.25 for the same quarter last year, on the back of 2.1% higher same store sales. Now the company expects next quarter’s same store sales to be flat, with specific same store sales down 2% at Qdoba. Jack in the Box still appears to be in restructuring mode, with plans to transform ownership of its higher-margin Qdoba units, from franchised to the company level, and will likely see margin compression as a result. The Wendy’s Company (NASDAQ:WEN) is seeing a significant amount of capital expenditures as it tries to implement its turnaround. CapEx is expected to come in at upward to $500 million this year thanks to the overhaul and new store openings.
Burger King Worldwide Inc. (NYSE:BKW) reentered the public markets in 2012 after being acquired by 3G Capital in 2010, which helped the company reduce expenses and navigate a decline in consumer spending. 3G’s changes included the introduction of a value menu and a franchising effort that includes making 97% of Burger King’s restaurants franchised, versus 90% at the end of 2011. The move has helped the company to increase its bottom line and reduce operating costs by 40%. Other key moves for taking market share from McDonald’s and Wendy’s includes renovation of 600 restaurants in the US and Canada in 2012, and more expected is to come (read about Burger King’s venture into coffee).