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Apr 13th, 2005, 07:48 PM

More beef, please! :o

McDonald's Sales Up, Profit Beats Expectations
Wednesday, April 13, 2005

CHICAGO McDonald's Corp. (MCD) Wednesday said sales at its namesake restaurants open at least 13 months rose 6.8 percent in March and reported preliminary first-quarter earnings that beat analysts expectations.

The company said preliminary earnings in the first quarter were about 56 cents a share, boosted by $179 million pretax benefit from the settlement of a tax audit.

Excluding the audit settlement and an expense of 3 cents a share related to stock-based compensation, earnings would be about 46 cents a share. Analysts on average forecast 44 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

"Sales continue to be above their long-term growth forecast," Dan Popowics, analyst at Fifth Third Asset Management (search) said. "I would say the stepped-up marketing and the menu additions are helping." Both Popowics and Fifth Third hold McDonald's shares.

McDonald's has had eight straight months of higher same-restaurant sales, helped by newer menu items like salads and new advertising.

Sales at stores open at least 13 months rose 4.6 percent in the quarter.

For March, U.S. same-restaurant sales rose 6.8 percent. In Europe same-store sales were up 6.6 percent, driven by new menu choices and improved service, the company said.

For the Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa segment, same-store sales rose 7.3 percent, helped by increased sales in Japan.

Total sales rose 11.2 percent in March and 8 percent in the first quarter, the company said.

McDonald's will release first-quarter earnings on April 21.