Consumer Stocks for Uncertain Times

Friday, 15 Apr 2011 02:06 PM

By Dan Weil

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The U.S. economy is in recovery mode, but threats abound: Surging oil prices, an exploding government debt burden, and a scheduled June finish of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing operation, QE2.

In uncertain times, consumers look for bargains. That’s good news for McDonalds (MCD), the world’s largest restaurant chain, and Best Buy (BBY), the world’s largest consumer-electronics retailer. They’re all about bargains, so they see plenty of business even when times are tough. And that’s a positive for their share prices.

McDonald’s

The Golden Arches’ profit climbed 9 percent to $4.95 billion last year from $4.55 billion in 2009. The company benefited from renovation of its restaurants and expansion of its value menus and new selections, including lattes and smoothies. While rising commodity prices increase costs, the chain has some room to raise prices. And thanks to its massive size, McDonald’s doesn’t have to raise prices as much as competitors.

McDonald's is "the most insensitive to commodities" in terms of earnings per share, JPMorgan analyst John Ivankoe wrote in a note to clients.

Another area where McDonald’s has an advantage over competitors is its productivity. McDonald’s yearly sales of $2.2 million per restaurant more than doubles the fast-food industry average of about $1 million per location, according to Morningstar data.

Best Buy

The company’s sales rose to $37.6 billion in the year ended Feb. 26 from $37.5 billion a year earlier. Discounts helped power smartphone sales. In February, Best Buy announced plans to open about 150 Best Buy Mobile small-format stores in the United States to take advantage of the cellphone craze.

The company has taken steps to deal with its many competitors, including store formats that can be customized locally, in-store technical-support services (Geek Squad), and upscale Magnolia home-theater offerings.

“We view BBY as the best-of-class U.S. consumer-electronics retailer, based on its digital-product focus, knowledgeable sales staff, and effective marketing campaigns,” writes Standard & Poor’s analyst Michael Souers.

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