By Lisa Baertlein
Aug 8 (Reuters) - McDonald’s Corp on Thursday reported slightly higher-than-expected July sales at established restaurants after the early return of its popular Monopoly promotion and new premium wrap sandwiches helped bring U.S. gains that offset weakness in Europe and Asia.
Investors had hoped that business at the seller of Big Mac hamburgers, french fries and Happy Meals would pick up meaningfully in the second half of this year, when results will compare with lackluster sales from a year ago.
While McDonald’s appears to be keeping a sales edge over rivals in the United States, it and other fast-food chains such as Burger King and Wendy’s are battling for the attention of frugal diners by offering low-priced “value menus” and flashy new limited-time selections.
The world’s biggest hamburger chain said global sales at restaurants open at least 13 months rose 0.7 percent last month, slightly more than the analysts’ average estimate of 0.4 percent, according to Consensus Metrix.
Moving the Monopoly giveaways from September helped same-restaurant sales in the United States to rise 1.6 percent, above the 0.3 percent gain analysts had anticipated.
Still, there is “a lot of work to do, especially in overseas markets,” Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo said.
European same-restaurant sales fell 1.9 percent, while analysts had expected a gain of 0.3 percent. Germany, France and southern Europe were the weakest performers in the region, McDonald’s said.
Europe just edges out the United States as McDonald’s top market for sales, and France, Germany and the United Kingdom are the top contributors for that region.
In Asia/Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, same-restaurant sales also dropped 1.9 percent, a much sharper fall than the 0.3 percent decline that analysts targeted.
The company cited weakness in Japan, Australia and China, where the outbreak of bird flu has pummeled demand. McDonald’s said the shift in the timing of Ramadan between years also hurt sales.
Shares of McDonald’s were down 0.6 percent at $97.74 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.