Customers at a McDonalds restaurant photo by Scott Olson

Customers at a McDonald's restaurant photo by Scott Olson

Sean Gregory writes at  Let’s face it — there are lots of reasons to hate McDonald’s: calories, cholesterol and, competition, for me at least, that queasy feeling after munching on McNuggets. Then there’s always that kid at the drive-through who forgets the ketchup.

Well, add one more reason to spite Ronald: as the global economy spirals downward, McDonald’s is minting money. The company addicts us to its food, and now it’s making out on our misery? But maybe it’s time to change our attitudes about the Golden Arches. What may be bad for the waistline may be good for the wallet. In these tough times, those $3.50 Big Macs never tasted so good.

“In the worst of times for the restaurant industry, it’s the best of times for McDonald’s,” says Burt Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resources Group, a retail-consulting company. McDonald’s reported global same-store-sales growth throughout 2008 — and in November, global sales rose 7.7% over 2007 (sales jumped 4.5% in the U.S.). In fact, the company’s sales have increased for 55 straight months. Profits grew 11%, to $1.2 billion, in the third quarter of 2008 (the company will report its fourth-quarter results on Jan. 26). McDonald’s and Walmart were the only two companies in the Dow Jones industrial average whose share prices rose during 2008. Merrill Lynch, which rates McDonald’s a “buy,” said in a research report that the stock is “in a world of its own.”

The economy is not the only reason people are drawn to McDonald’s. The company’s management also deserves credit for its success. Back in 2003, America’s obesity epidemic was a hot topic, and McDonald’s suffered from the backlash. For the first time in its 47-year history, the company saw a quarterly loss. Its stock was down to $12 a share. You couldn’t just blame bad p.r. for the company’s woes. Stale food and tired stores also kept people away. “McDonald’s was actively dissuading customers from coming back,” says John Glass, a Morgan Stanley analyst.

Like any other business in this environment, McDonald’s faces some potential roadblocks. It’s rolling out a specialty coffee menu, called McCafe, which will include vanilla lattes and mochas. “It’s not the best time to roll out a premium beverage product,” Glass notes.

Read Sean Gregory’s whole piece at Time