One Tweak Dunkin’ Brands Should Really Consider in 2019

Originally published by The Motley Fool.

Dunkin’ Brands Group (NASDAQ:DNKN) has entered 2019 in reasonably good shape, as the company’s shares managed to finish flat last year, avoiding the share price losses of many of its publicly traded competitors. Prospects are generally bright for the doughnut and beverage giant, as management expects current-year sales to be enhanced by a 2018 year-end upgrade of the company’s coffee offerings.

But what’s a new year in the equities markets without a little armchair criticism from detached observers? If I could choose one item to harp on in 2019 — and I suppose I just did — it would be Dunkin’ Brands’ capital structure, which is weighted too heavily toward debt for my liking.

Leverage galore on the balance sheet

Image Source: Dunkin' Brands

Image Source: Dunkin’ Brands

Those who hold shares of DNKN are probably already aware that the Dunkin’ financial model allows for copious amounts of debt on its balance sheet. Since going public in 2011, the company has used regular debt offerings to raise cash, which is then returned to shareholders via share repurchases.

These repurchases typically occur when Dunkin’ refinances its debt. Management tends to utilize borrowing power created by increased earnings to offer new debt in excess of required refinancing levels.

This was the case in the company’s latest major refinancing in November 2017. Dunkin’ issued $1.4 billion of senior fixed-rate notes and used part of the proceeds to retire $731.3 million in older notes, while returning $650 million to investors in February 2018 via share repurchases.

This debt-financed share repurchase activity fits within the Dunkin’ corporate philosophy and business model. Dunkin’ Brands operates as a nearly 100% franchised operation — it runs very few of its own locations.

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Bien Launches!

I’m proud and extremely excited that my friend Ricardo Roberts has recently launched his design and motion graphics company bien with fellow creative and entrepreneur Hung Le. They’ve got a really vibrant approach to animation which reflects their childhoods spent in South America and Asia; their aesthetic is also shaped by sharing operations between the east and west coasts. With clients which range from Netflix and Nickelodeon to the World Bank and USAID, their work is equally embraced by content houses and global, socially conscious non-profit organizations. This is a studio you can feel great about loving. Crank up the volume when you watch their portfolio reel below:

Ramen Noodles and Stock Investing

Originally published by The Motley Fool.

Package of "Top Ramen" chili flavor instant ramen with No Added MSG and Vegetarian labels.

Image Source: Nissin Foods USA.

You can be sure that the economic tides have truly shifted within an industry when customers begin to demand of commodity products the qualities they once sought out only in high-end goods.

Last week, in a bid to appeal to consumers’ demands for “clean label” foods, Nissin Foods USA announced that it’s updating the recipe of its iconic Top Ramen line of instant noodles to reflect the three changes most requested by customers. The company told Food Navigator-USA that it’s reducing sodium across its packaged noodles by 15%, eliminating added MSG (beyond the naturally occurring glutamate found in its other ingredients), and dispensing with artificial flavors.

As a lifelong fan of instant ramen noodles, I for one will be curious to see how Nissin maintains the umami quotient in its flavor packets without the aid of monosodium glutamate, an ingredient which, though never proven to have harmful effects, nonetheless has faced much more skepticism in the West than in Asia, where it was

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Eleven Words of Accountingspeak that Changed My Career

“Is she tight?”

For some reason, in the fatigue of a late spring morning after a grueling tax season, my mind hung on the word, which is, among other things, slang for “tipsy.” The question inexplicably summoned up the image of a renegade ship from one of those half-forgotten childhood adventure novels, complete with pirates in a scramble up the rigging, cursing mightily as they trimmed the sails in a fierce wind.

“Yes, sir, she’s tight.”

Henry, one of the partners in the staid, decades-old CPA firm where I worked, was of course referring to the audit, in the form of two bulging, string-bound manila folders that I had just placed on his desk for review. This was the early 2000s, in the twilight of paper-based audits, before everything went electronic. I was a junior auditor in my third year, and had recently graduated from working on senior staff members’ audits to heading up my own very small ones.

I knew what “tight” meant. It meant that you had cleaned up all the loose ends in your field work, that your numerical schedules footed (summed) perfectly, that you had run a well thought out set of analytical procedures to uncover any glaring signs of fraud or incompetence. It meant a thousand small things. But it was also related to a more mysterious question Henry often posed, which true to form on this morning immediately followed:

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“…and the gangs of the moon”

There’s much to catch hold of in the following video. Notice the admiration on Caetano Veloso’s face as he listens to Gilberto Gil sing, and the charisma between these two lifelong friends and masters of Brazilian music. If you play guitar, it’s fun to listen to the Gil’s technique; it seems to demystify how a samba should be presented. Grab a pair of head phones to hear the ambient texture of music charts being shuffled while Veloso dances.

“Maquina do Ritmo” (Rhythm Machine) is a gorgeous song, and while this opening scene of the documentary “Outros Bárbaros,” picks up more than halfway through the piece, you get a sense of Gil’s unique melodic and lyrical chops. The samba offers a piquant commentary on both our increasingly computerized culture and the “novas tecno-ilusões” that inform the music of the night clubs of Rio de Janeiro. It ends on images pulled from a dream. I’ve provided a rough translation of the first lyrics you hear below, but by all means, seek out the rest for a glimpse into our collective future.

Courtesy the YouTube channel of Perlusqui

“Máquina de Ritmo
Quem sabe um bom pó de pirlimpimpim
Possa deletar a dor de quem
Deixou de lado o tamborim
Apesar do seu computador
Ter samba bom, samba ruim
Se aperto o botão, meu coração
Há de dizer que é samba sim”

Rhythm Machine
Who knows? A good sprinkling of pixie dust
Can possibly delete the pain of those
Who’ve left behind the tambourine
Although your computer
Holds both good and bad sambas
If I press the button, my heart
Can tell me if the samba is true

The Baddest Badge In Washington, DC

Last summer, Dilnavaz spent a week in Washington as part of a graduate course in her program in Information Sciences at UTK. I took the boys to visit her over a long late July weekend. On a steaming Saturday morning we sought out the Henry Folger Shakespeare Library, which had long been on Dil’s bucket list. After spending a few hours staring at rare folios under glass, I wandered into the lobby to scratch a few notes in my journal; a stiff-backed, college-ruled legal pad with a worn manilla cover I’ve taped on. The cover itself reads, in my left-handed scrawl: Burukindu Dream Phonograph — the working title of a piece of fiction I’ve been growing lately — more on this in a few years.

I finished my note and glanced up to see the intersection of dues paying and literary cred. This, true believers, is one tough uniform:

Folger Shakespeare Security Badge

Knowing What You’re About

Mayan Barista Rocking the Cimbali Espresso Machine at Cafe Baviera, in Xela, Guatemala

Mayan Barista Rocking the Cimbali Espresso Machine at Cafe Baviera, in Xela, Guatemala

It was raining in Quetzaltenango, a city with a surprisingly cool climate in the land of eternal spring. Xela, as the locals refer to it by its pre-Spanish Mayan name, is Guatemala’s second largest city, and a gateway to the coffee country of the western highlands. My tribe — Dilnavaz, myself, and our three young boys — had been up since dawn to make the trip from Lake Atitlan to Xela. From the precarious wooden dock of Hotel Isla Verde, we had hailed a public lancha (canopied motorboat) to Panajachel. At the Pana docks we crammed our five bodies and five stuffed backpacks into a tuktuk, a Guatemalan rickshaw; ours as many others in Pana rested on a classic Indian Bajaj scooter chassis, which delighted Dilnavaz. The tuktuk dropped us at the perpetually frenetic intersection of the Calle Principal and Calle Santander, in the spiritual center of town. Four chicken buses and three hours later we stood literally outside the Xela city gates at an impromptu bus stand.

A young office worker was thumbing through text messages on his Claro network berry. He looked up as we tried to orient ourselves. I approached him and tried to articulate our wish to reach the central square, in my — for lack of a more precise term — charismatic Spanish. He pointed to a microbus, which naturally at that moment was roaring into gear and grudgingly rolling out of the dust and onto the main road.

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