Burger King (NYSE:BKW) has promised consumers since the 1970s that they could “have it your way.”  Investors are now starting to take notice.

The Miami-based burger chain yesterday reported it earned an adjusted profit of 23 cents per share, two cents higher than analysts expected.  Revenue slumped 40% to $275.1 million, beating the $266.6 million consensus Wall Street forecast. Comparable sales in the U.S. and Canada fell 0.3%, which measures revenue growth at locations opened at least a year, as Burger King was hurt by stiff competition from rivals and soft consumer demand. That was worse than the 0.8% gain analysts had expected.  

Shares of Burger King, which have surged more than 27% so far this year, rose $1.14, or 5.77%, to $20.85. They have outperformed McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), which rose more than 8.53% so far this year.  Wendy’s (NYSE:WEN) has done better than both of them, surging more than 58%.

Burger King also leads McDonald’s when it comes to taste though Wendy’s is favored by consumers over both chains, according to market researcher Technomic. The Home of the Whopper also is hoping that diners will respond favorably to its plan to remodel 40% of its restaurants in the US and Canada by 2015. It also is offering delivery in some markets.

The third largest burger chain is de-emphasizing special or limited-time menu items, which seems like a good idea. Earlier this year, McDonald’s scaled back its offerings after the chain realized it was confusing consumers and employees, who weren’t familiar with poorer selling items.    

Speaking on the company’s earnings conference call,  CEO Daniel Schwartz said the third-biggest burger chain is  "focused on introducing fewer, more impactful products” such as Satisfries, lower calorie French fries, which helped attract diners to its U.S. restaurants in the quarter. The government shutdown had no effect on Burger King’s operations.

With a price-to-earnings multiple of about 49, Burger King shares are not cheap, especially since McDonald’s market valuation is about 17.2. Wendy’s sports an eye-popping 276 multiple. Revenue at Burger King will continue to decline by double-digits for the next few quarters as it converts its company stores to franchises, to be more in line with the rest of the quick service restaurant industry, analysts have said.  Earnings per share are expected to be little changed in the current quarter though its 2013 results are expected to show a gain.

The shares are trading above their average 52-week price target, so there is no huge rush to buy the stock. Though McDonald’s is far cheaper, the company has disappointed investors lately and shows no signs of improvement. Wendy’s should be avoided since it’s so expensive. Burger King, though, is a good choice since it has plenty going for it.

Satisfries have gotten some positive albeit lukewarm reviews. Consumer Reports noted, “the consensus was that the Satisfries' flavor is fairly similar to Burger King's regular fries.”  Business Insider was kinder, saying “… while a fry that feels somewhat gourmet and actually tastes like a potato is nice, we aren't sure Burger King's customers, who are used to the salt, grease, and ketchup, will be willing to make the switch.” However, Satisfries may be help Burger King gain an edge in attracting customers concerned about eating healthier, which would be a plus in the hyper-competitive fast food market.

Burger King’s strength overseas is helping off-set weakness in the U.S.  The chain did well in the Asia Pacific region, where sales of existing restaurants gained 3.7%, outperforming McDonald’s and Yum Brands, the parent of KFC and Pizza Hut, which had seen their business soften in the region.  Burger King also reported gains in its Europe, Middle East and Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean divisions same-store sales.  The Home of the Whopper is planning to expand further overseas.

The Bottom Line

Though Burger King is not going to have everything go its way, the company is certainly headed in the right direction.  Satisfries may succeed where other low-calorie fries have failed. The company’s overseas prospects seem solid. The only negative on the stock is that it’s a little too expensive.

Disclosure - At the time of writing, the author did not own shares of any company mentioned in this article.

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