Sunday, May 31, 2009

Up McDonald's, Down Starbucks

One day in high school, all English classes subjected their students to an unannounced 100-word spelling test. The teacher read the words out; the students tried to write them down with the correct spelling. After the test was over, we exchanged papers with the student in an adjacent desk for grading. That completed, my friend (who had graded me) looked at me with amazement. What was up? 100% correct. He was floored. And he had known me for years. For me, it was no big deal. I had gone through the entirety of second grade with weekly spelling tests with no misspellings the entire year.

That and 25 cents (in those days) would get you on the subway. No big deal. (This sort of photographic memory would, however, come in handy tackling 2000-page texts in medical school.)

The above said, how on earth could I be interested in the stock of a company with a descriptive Web page titled Havin' Fun, when the heading of the page misspells Havin' as Havin? (Apostrophes count!)

Well, chalk it up to the decline of standards in this country.

More important than spelling is the buzz on the street.

Yesterday I was walking on a country street and talking with my friend, who is a restaurateur, about the investment merits of McDonald's (the "Havin' Fun" company). MCD's 1- and 2-year stock charts show no sign of the bear market, the stock yields 3 1/2%, the price-earnings ratio is reasonable, most sales are generated in foreign lands, and eating never goes out of style. Is that good enough to justify putting a lot of money in the stock? Not necessarily. As with Apple when it surged, a catalyst helps a lot. And it looks as though McDonald's has a catalyst to grow sales and earnings and to provide the very important theme to attract new investors.

As stated, I was pointing out that thinking in an old-fashioned way about actually marrying a stock rather than what has become the fool's game of trading (since the computers are smarter than you and less predictable), MCD, as a well-run growing company the fractional ownership of which yields more than cash and as much as a 10-year Treasury bond is interesting.

A voice interrupted from behind. A couple had been walking behind us and ventured to inform us that they had given up Starbucks' coffee for that of McDonald's. They said that McDonald's new line of espresso-based coffee drinks (McCafe) is superb. Not just good, but great. The local McDonald's, they said, is jammed full at 8 AM with espresso drinkers.

You should know that the specific part of America where we were strolling is isolated and upper crust enough that McDonald's is not a typical source of nutrition for the occasional fellow walker one may encounter from time to time.

That's good enough for me. In this modern industrial depression, luxury coffee remains affordable to many. "Mickey D" gives you a buzz, and is catching one. It is about as far from the Merchants of Debt as can be (until relatively recently, it did not even accept credit cards).

Buy and hold.

For the nonce.

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2009

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