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Investors have one overriding question about incoming McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook: Can he repair the Golden Arches?
It will be a super-sized job: 2014 revenue fell 2.4% vs. 2013, and net income dropped 14.8%. Global sales at its stores open at least 13 months, a key industry metric, fell 1.8% in January.
And while McDonald's stock jumped last week, just ahead of Easterbrook's March 1, accession to CEO, it's up about 5% in the past year vs. 14% for the S&P 500.
"Any time you have an incoming CEO, that can be a catalyst for change," says Mark Kalinowski of Janney Capital Markets. "In McDonald's history, that's mostly been positive change."
To U.S. investors, Easterbrook, 47, is a virtual unknown. He was global chief brand officer at McDonald's before being tapped to replace CEO Don Thompson, but spent most of his career with McDonald's in Europe.
They are likely to learn more about the new CEO's plans this week at the chain's bi-annual meeting for U.S. franchisees and managers in Las Vegas. Some call it the "U.S. turnaround summit."
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The focus, says spokeswoman Lisa McComb, is "regaining business momentum."
That means reversing the same-store sales decline in the U.S., says Lynne Collier, restaurant analyst at Sterne Agee. "That's what investors want to see more than anything."
Among highly-charged topics likely to come up at the meeting is whether to continue rolling out the Millennial-friendly "Create Your Taste" platform of custom-ordering via kiosk. Thompson had said it would spread to 2,000 U.S. restaurants this year. Easterbrook, 47, was unavailable for comment; McDonald's declined to provide a meeting agenda.
Not everyone loves Create Your Taste. Franchise consultant Richard Adams says the platform not only is too costly for franchisees, it's irrelevant for the drive-thru, which is up to 70% of McDonald's business. "It's like having two restaurants in one. It's a huge question mark."
An even bigger question mark for investors is how Easterbook will respond to what Kalinowski calls the toughest competition it's ever had, particularly in the U.S.
As privately-held Chick-fil-A continues to evolve from a regional to national chain, he says, "McDonald's is at risk of losing market share to Chick-fil-A for the next 20 to 30 years."