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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Breakfast Indicator

In the information age of today, there are myriad indicators for the economy ranging from the employment numbers to the men’s underwear indicator. They wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have some merit but none tell the full story. So, why not add one more? I propose the “Breakfast Indicator”, which is currently anecdotal, though testing will commence soon. If fast-food restaurants have lines waiting for breakfast, the economy is improving or doing well. Fast-food companies expanding to offer menus including breakfast clearly see opportunities, implying people are buying more breakfast, furthering the claim.

Why does this indicate a strengthening (strong) economy you may ask? If money is tight, grabbing something on the way to work, while much easier than making something at home, is much more of a luxury. In a weak economy, a commuter wakes up a couple minutes earlier, grabs a bowl of cereal and cup of coffee before heading to work. In a stronger economy, an employee feels more confident with her current level of income and wakes up a bit later, stops for a quick eat-in-the-car breakfast before continuing to work.

Let me pause to address the issues that have arisen in brief conversations about my intuition. First, being awake, and in line, for fast-food breakfast on my way to work is a little early for someone unemployed (and not actively looking for work). In addition to being awake, the cost (relatively small, but still) is greater than someone without income will usually feel comfortable spending. Second, if the population feels better about work, they are more likely to feel comfortable showing up to work less early. Finally, one may ask why breakfast and not lunch? For a couple reasons: most everyone is awake by lunch time; grabbing something quick to head back to the office implies a rush (less comfort in the job); and most importantly, fast-food lunch is cheaper than sit down places.

What does this say about today? Every morning, I see drive thru lines full at Taco Bell, Tim Hortons, Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds and Starbucks in that order on my way to work. To take it one step further, Taco Bell just recently expanded to serving breakfast, citing potential for great growth. From everything I am seeing, the economy looks to be growing. Not all is growing though; I have found the drive-thru lines, coupled with my complete lack of patience has shrunk my waistline.

As always, stay invested.
Michael Baldwin
Research Analyst