Do fast-food price wars suggest recession ahead? – Orange County Register

I’ve long been a “discountologist” specializing in “couponology.”

This is the art of tracking merchants who are significantly slashing prices and which ones are simply “marketing” with fairly ordinary deals.

This analysis of bargains comes in handy when managing household finances. But I also use it as a reliable economic indicator.

It’s an odd practice requiring some backward logic. A flood of discounts may be good for your finances but it might also signal bosses are getting desperate — and your job security could be at risk.

Remember all those great deals you could get … during the Great Recession?

Welcome to 2018 and the great, new fast-food price wars.

TV and radio, social media, restaurant windows, email inboxes … even postal mailboxes are littered with what McDonald’s has erupted: renewed mega-marketing of dollar menus at fast-food titans. It’s an awkward turnabout from “we can make better food” campaigns.

Late last year, McDonald’s began pitching a reinvigorated collection of menu items at $1, $2 and $3. This was the fast food giant’s first serious attempt at pushing its “dollar menu” in half a decade.

You’ve got Jack-in-the-Box, which was previously pitching an upper-scale rib-eye burger, now highlighting its “Value Done Jack’s Way” with items from $1 to $5. Meanwhile, Wendy’s added more menu choices to its “4 for $4” combo meals.

In the Mexican-themed corner, Taco Bell’s got its $1 Cravings Menu. And Del Taco, which had been boasting about its higher-quality queso sauce, went the lowest with cheap eats starting at 69 cents.

And now struggling Subway reluctantly joined the fray, a selection of full-sized footlongs at $4.99.

If you take a discountologist’s view that deals are problematic for the economy, should we be worried? Especially when “couponology” notes no coupons are required to get these tasty promotions. So everybody’s invited to the party!

Well, it’s kind of early in this price war to hoist a broad-brush warning flag. Especially right after consumers spent heartily over the holidays with what this discountologist saw as less-than-remarkable “bargains” as motivation. Let’s see what’s at stake …

Q. Is it seasonal?

A. The first few month’s of any year are tough for anybody pitching goods to consumers whose budgets have been tapped out by holiday spending. So discounting is very common in January and February in the fast-food game.

But often the price cuts are…

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