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How Burgers Beat Boeing

The Exchange

No one's going to be surprised to hear McDonald's (MCD) sells a lot of burgers every year, but it can become rather perspective-bending when you see that, as a brand, it records more sales annually serving up sandwiches and fries than Boeing (BA) does building commercial jets and defense systems.

Of course McDonald's and Boeing are not remotely similar businesses but, for the sake of large number comparisons, the fact that Quarter Pounders trump 747s is worth noting.

In its latest fiscal year, McDonald's recorded total revenue of $27.6 billion, of which $18.6 billion came from stores it owns. Another $9 billion resulted from the funds it collects from its franchised locations — those make up about 81% of the more than 34,000 McDonald's restaurants worldwide.

But it's when you combine the $69.7 billion in sales from the almost 28,000 shops McDonald's doesn't own with the revenue from restaurants it does that you get a whopping sum for its system-wide sales. Put them together and that means total store sales, for franchised and owned units, reached $88.3 billion last year, or nearly $242 million a day. Here's the trend of the past five years:

McDonald's global sales vs. Boeing annual revenue

Source: McDonald's and Boeing. $ in millions.

Were that the revenue measure by which McDonald's was judged, it would rank as the 26th-largest company on the S&P 500, coming in ahead of names such as Wells Fargo (WFC), Prudential Financial (PRU) and Procter & Gamble (PG), and about $6.6 billion clear of the aforementioned Boeing's $81.7 billion.

Last year Boeing's commercial airplanes division had revenue of $49.1 billion, while the defense, space and security operation had revenue of $32.6 billion. Today, you could get a single 737-700 for a list price of around $76 million, or you could take the same amount of money and pick up about 18 million or so Big Macs.

Very large numbers here, though both are dwarfed by the biggest U.S. companies. The two leaders, far and away, are Wal-Mart (WMT) and Exxon Mobil (XOM), each of whom has annual revenue in excess of $400 billion, or what equates to north of $1 billion a day.

And yet we'd be remiss without one more revenue comparison: That of the Apple (AAPL) iPhone, which this recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek report put at an annualized rate of $88.4 billion — giving it on its own just enough to edge out the entire McDonald's system.