McDonald's U.S. Jan sales strong, Europe slows

Wed Feb 8, 2012 11:26am EST

Customers are served at a Mcdonald's fast food restaurant in London, January 24, 2012.  REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Customers are served at a Mcdonald's fast food restaurant in London, January 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly

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(Reuters) - McDonald's Corp reported a better-than-expected rise in January sales at established restaurants across the globe, as strength in the United States helped offset the slowing pace of sales gains in Europe.

Investors largely shook off the decelerating sales from Europe, where debt woes and demand-denting austerity measures have dented results of some other large U.S. companies.

McDonald's shares were down 0.7 percent at $100.23 on Wednesday morning on the New York Stock Exchange.

The world's biggest hamburger chain said on Wednesday that sales at restaurants open at least 13 months rose 6.7 percent globally, more than analysts' estimated 5.9 percent gain, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Europe is McDonald's biggest market for revenue, edging out the United States.

Europe turned in a same-restaurant sales increase of 4.0 percent, below the 4.6 percent rise analysts had forecast, according to Thomson Reuters data. However, that result topped the 3.7 percent gain seen by Consensus Metrix, another closely followed estimates provider.

McDonald's has been outpacing rivals there in recent months, helped by competitive prices, new products like snacks and McCafe drinks and restaurant renovations. Analysts noted that Europe's January result came on top of a year-earlier gain of 7 percent.

McDonald's called out strength in Britain, Germany and France -- which account for more than half of its European revenue -- as well as Russia.

"There hasn't been much correlation between McDonald's same-store sales in Europe during times of economic hardship in the region in the past," Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy said.

While growth has decelerated in Europe, Hottovy expects price increases rolled out last year to buoy results this year.

Other top-performing companies have seen Europe crack.

Among them is McDonald's beverage rival Starbucks Corp. In January the world's biggest coffee chain said it was underperforming internal targets in Europe and that it was working to improve results there.

U.S. same-restaurant sales were up 7.8 percent, above analysts' call for a lift of 7.3 percent -- boosted by such offerings as breakfast, McCafe beverages and chicken McBites, a limited-time item.

McDonald's leads the U.S. fast-food industry and has been increasing its dominance over hamburger chains including Wendy's Co and Burger King Corp by attracting a broader range of diners than fast food's typical young adult males.

Sales in its Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA) regions grew by 7.3 percent, above the analysts' forecast for an increase of 5.8 percent. China was the standout for the region, where breakfast and lunch value items as well as promotions drove sales.

McDonald's trails KFC parent Yum Brands Inc in China.

Shares of McDonald's and other marquee restaurant names such as Starbucks, Yum and Chipotle Mexican Grill are trading near all-time highs.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Brad Dorfman in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Maureen Bavdek and Matthew Lewis)

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