A Fed President says there is no Inflation while the Price of the Big Mac says Otherwise

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 13th, 2014

Week in Review

Inflation is bad according to Rep. Chris Van Hollen.  And, therefore, we need baseline budgeting (taking last years’ spending and automatically adding more to it to arrive at the budget for the following year) to overcome the corrosive effect of inflation on government spending.  And he illustrated this by showing how inflation has increased the price of a Big Mac over the years (see Members of Congress debate budget with Big Macs by Eric Pfeiffer posted 4/8/2014 on Yahoo! News).

On Tuesday, two members of Congress got into a detailed discussion over inflation, with Rep. Chris Van Hollen using pictures of hamburgers  to argue that inflation estimates are necessary to undercut future budgets.

Holding up a chart that showed the average cost of a McDonald’s Big Mac in 2004 ($2.71) compared with its cost today ($4.62), Maryland Democrat Van Hollen argued that not adjusting budget numbers for inflation equates to a net cut.

But while arguing that we need baseline budgeting to counter rampant inflation we have someone whose job is to keep inflation from rearing its ugly head in the economy saying quite another thing (see Fed’s Evans ‘exasperated’ by inflation warnings by Greg Robb posted 4/9/2014 on MarketWatch).

Many people who argue that inflation is just around the corner have been repeating the same warning for the past five years, said Charles Evans, the president of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, on Wednesday. “I confess that I am somewhat exasperated by these repeated warnings given our current environment of very low inflation,” Evan said in a speech at an economic policy conference in Washington D.C. Evans said he still sees the economic environment pointing to below-target inflation “for several years.” Evans debunked current arguments that inflation is just over the horizon. He said that there is “substantial room” for stronger wage growth without inflation pressures building and added the Fed’s large balance sheet is not a “classic warning sign” of inflation. Commodity prices also seem to be an unlikely propellent of inflation at the moment, he said.

So while Rep. Chris Van Hollen is wringing his hands over the rampant inflation everywhere that we can only counter with baseline budgeting the president of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank gets exasperated by people like Rep. Chris Van Hollen.  Because there is no inflation that he can see.  And it’s his job to find inflation.  So he can stop it.  So who’s right?  They can’t both be right.  Of course, the price of the Big Mac has gone up through the years.  But there is only one problem with Rep. Chris Van Hollen presentation in Congress (see the Yahoo! News article linked to previously).

Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, there was one falsehood on display at the House committee hearing on Tuesday. As The Washington Post noted, those hamburgers used in Van Hollen’s charts weren’t actually Big Macs.

That’s right.  With all the resources our representatives have at their disposal they could not even take the time to get a picture of the right hamburger.  Perhaps because the only beef our representatives eat is the tenderloin and wouldn’t be caught dead ‘slumming’ it at a McDonald’s.  Food the vast majority of Americans find delicious.  But then again, we’re not a bunch of pompous, arrogant, condescending prima donnas like our representatives, are we?



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McDonald’s 2012 Annual Report

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 6th, 2013

History 101

The Benefit of a McDonald’s Franchise is getting the Benefit of their Years of Building their Brand

Recently a late-night comedy show attacked McDonald’s for being greedy.  Because they don’t pay their minimum wage workers a living wage.  Because what were once entry level jobs are now the primary support for some families.  And why have entry level jobs come to support families?  Because the anti-business policies of the current administration have destroyed better-paying jobs.  But they don’t attack that on late-night television.  They attack a company actually providing jobs in a jobless economy.

Today McDonald’s is huge.  You can find them pretty much anywhere in the world.  Which can be a welcome site for a weary traveler.  For they know they can walk into a McDonald’s wherever they are and have the comfort of a meal exactly like that at home.  Which is pretty amazing if you think about it.  And why McDonald’s is so successful.  The sight of those Golden Arches can attract a foreigner in a strange land or a construction worker on a new project in a distant city.  They know exactly what they can get at that McDonald’s.  What it will taste like.  And what it will cost.  Even if they’ve never been in that McDonald’s before.

This is because McDonald’s has very successfully built their brand.  Which is one of those intangible things.  It has great value.  But you can’t physically touch it.  Those who own a McDonald’s franchise can enjoy a thriving business.  From day one.  Without doing any marketing to get people to walk into their restaurant.  They don’t have to.  Because McDonald’s has already done it.  And continues to do it.  This is the benefit of the franchise.  You get the benefit of all those years of hard work McDonald’s did to build their brand by simply paying a franchise fee (see Restaurants and Franchises posted 8/5/2013 on Pithocrates).  It’s not cheap.   But it’s such a fair deal for both franchiser and franchisee that McDonald’s had 27,882 franchised stores in 2012 (see McDonald’s 2012 Annual Report, page 11).

Owning a McDonald’s Franchise allows you to own a Restaurant that has been Successfully in Business for 72 Years

In addition to the intangible value of the brand the franchise fee also includes rent.  For McDonald’s “owns the land and building or secures long-term leases” for the franchisee’s store (see McDonald’s 2012 Annual Report, page 11).  While the franchise needs to foot the bill for the “equipment, signs, seating and décor.”  This makes sure all stores are modern and up to date and uniform.  Helping to maintain that comfortable familiarity for the customers.  While splitting the capital costs between the franchisee and franchiser.  So both parties have a major investment in the business.  And each shares in the profits of the business.  Perhaps the best of the deal for the franchisee is getting a mentor.  And a detailed operating manual telling them everything they need to know and do.

Owning a McDonald’s franchise is costly.  But you get to step into a restaurant that has been successfully in business for 72 years.  Give or take.  Considering that half of all restaurants fail within the first five years of business this is a HUGE benefit for the franchisee.  And something well worth the franchise fee.  As evidenced by 27,882 franchised stores in 2012.  So what is that franchise fee?  And how much money does the franchisee get to keep after paying the franchise fee?

Well, if you do a little number crunching with the financials included in the 2012 annual report you can get an approximate number.  McDonald’s also has stores they own and operate.  In 2012 they had 6,598 company-owned stores.  The average per store revenue was $1,358,594 (calculated by dividing the total revenue from the company-owned stores by the number of company-owned stores).  A similar calculation gives an approximate $667,205 franchise fee per franchised store.  Subtracting the typical franchisee fee from the typical store revenue (assuming all stores have the same average revenue as the company-owned stores) gives the franchisee an annual income of $691,389.  From this income the franchisee has to pay for food, labor and overhead.  And whatever is left over is profit.

High School Kids and College Students work at McDonald’s because they need no prior Restaurant Experience

The rule of thumb in restaurants is that costs are broken down into thirds.  One third is food cost.  One third is labor cost.  And one third is overhead and profit.  So if we divide that $691,389 by 3 we get an annual food cost per franchised store of $230,463.  Ditto for labor.  And overhead (gas, electric, water, insurances, taxes, licenses, fees, waste disposal, light bulbs, toilet paper, soap, garbage bags, etc.) and profit.  Let’s look at the labor cost more closely.  To see if McDonald’s is greedy when it comes to paying their employees.

The benefit of owning a franchise is that it comes with very explicit instructions.  A McDonald’s distributor delivers prepared food ready for the grill and fryer.  As delicious as it is, though, it doesn’t take a highly skilled chef to prepare it.  As the franchisee operating manual has it down to a science.  Which is why high school kids and college students work at McDonald’s.  They need no prior restaurant experience as it is an entry level job.  Typically their first job.  Where they learn what it’s like entering the workforce.  The importance of being on time.  Following instructions.  Being responsible.  Skills that they will use in later jobs.  Which most do.  As there is a high turnover of employees at McDonald’s as there is for all fast food.  Because these are entry level jobs for unskilled workers.  Who learn the skills they need on the job.  So let’s assume a restaurant that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Assuming an hourly rate of $8.50 and an overhead of 40% for direct labor costs (workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment taxes, health insurance, uniforms, training, etc.) the average hourly labor cost comes to $11.90.  Dividing the labor cost of $230,463 by this hourly cost gives us 15,758 annual labor hours.  Or about 53.06 hours per day.  Or 17.69 hours per 8-hour shift.  Giving us an average of 2.21 workers per 8-hour shift.

During the breakfast and lunch rush a typical McDonald’s may have between 5-8 people working.  With fewer working in the evening.  And a skeleton crew over night working the drive-thru.  So the labor fluctuates during the day to correspond to the amount of business.  Which is why there are a lot of part-time workers at McDonald’s.  Ideal for high school and college kids.  In addition the owner typically works during those busy periods to help with the rush.  And works on paperwork during the slower times.  Putting in about 12 hours a day.  If you assume an overhead rate of 18% and multiply that to the franchisee annual income of $691,389 we get an overhead expense of $124,450.  Subtracting that from the $230,463 (overhead & profit) leaves an annual owner income of $106,013.  Or, based on a work week of 84 hours (12 hours a day X 7 days a week), the owner earns about $24.27 an hour.  A rate a lot of people can earn working for someone else without the headaches of owning a business.

That late-night comedy show attacked McDonald’s for being greedy.  Saying they should increase their pay rate to a living rate.  Like picketers were asking for.  $15/hour.  A labor cost increase of 82.6%.  Or an additional $190,382 each year.  Which would bring the franchisee’s annual income from $106,013 to an annual loss of $84,369.  So are these McDonald’s franchisees greedy because they refuse to pay a living wage?  No.  They simply can’t afford to pay more than the minimum wage for these minimum wage jobs.  Unless they can get people to spend $6-$7 for a Big Mac.  They are delicious.  But are they $6-$7 delicious?  And can a low-income family afford to take the family to McDonald’s when they are charging $6-$7 per burger?  Probably not.  No.  McDonald’s is just fine.  What we need to do is to un-do the anti-business policies of this administration that is killing those higher-paying jobs.  And forcing the primary earner in some families to work a minimum wage job.  Because that’s all that is available in this jobless economy.



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