6th July 2012  God Save the (Burger)King!

After two years in private ownership fast food chain Burger King (BKW) has returned to the stock market.


The manner of Burger King's return is just as complex as its recent history. A series of sales and mergers bought it into newly formed Diageo (DEO) in 1997 where it fell into decline. In 2002 TPG Capital and a number of partners bought BK from Diageo for $1.5 billion and then took it public through an IPO in 2006. The brand improved and in 2010 TPG sold to Brazilian based 3G Capital for $3.26 billion and Burger King was taken off the stock exchange.


Eschewing a more typical IPO 3G re-floated Burger King in a "reverse-merger" or "reverse-IPO", selling 29% of its shares to Justice Holdings, a publicly traded company on the London Stock Exchange. Justice Holdings delisted, changed its name to Burger King Worldwide Inc. and relisted on the New York Stock Exchange, trading 16% of the total shares in the company and holding the remaining 13% itself.


Burger King was well received in its first week of trading, closing at $15.31 on the 3rd of July. Opening at $14.50 on its first day it popped to $16.25 but fell back down below $16 and has failed to cross it since, settling into the low $15.00's since Thursday.


The relisting comes shortly after the end of a yearlong process by 3G Capital to redefine the BK brand and focus the company on clawing back some of the market share it has lost to rivals McDonald's (MCD) and Wendy's (WEN). A disastrous advertising campaign saw them dump The King mascot himself in favour of using celebrities such as David Beckham and the menu has been expanded widely from burgers and fries to more directly compete with that of McDonald's, now featuring items like salads and smooties.


Burger King still has a long way to go in catching up to McDonalds. Worldwide they have around 12,500 restaurants in comparison to the 33,000 or so affiliated to McDonald's. In June CFO Daniel Schwartz announced they aim to open 1,000 restaurants in China in five to seven years as well as several hundred in Russia and expand into India, South Africa and Indonesia.


However, Reuters reports some analysts having a negative outlook on BK's transformation, seeing the menu change as a defensive move. Still, sales for the first quarter rose by 4.6% and this is before the new menu set in. Schwartz also reports that sales are strong in Europe considering the on-going economic turmoil.


With the monarchy toppled and management attempting to break the brands main association with the 20's male demographic so as to appeal to a larger market Burger King is, not for the first time, throwing the dice and preparing to take radical steps to turn its business around. While admirable this hasn't always been successful in the past. But a successful drive into the Chinese and Russian markets and the revitalised menu could see them, at least in the short term, push to take back their number 2 position behind McDonald's in terms of sales.


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