McDonald's same-store sales up 1.4 percent in February

CHICAGO/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - McDonald's Corp MCD.N posted a 1.4 percent rise in February sales at restaurants open at least 13 months, as strength in the United States helped offset the impact of the stronger dollar.

A flag blows in the wind above a McDonald's restaurant in Encinitas, California July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Shares in the company -- one of the restaurant industry’s top performers -- were up 1.2 percent in morning trade.

The company booked higher sales despite having one fewer day in February, since 2008 was a Leap Year. The loss of that one day cut about 4 percentage points from same-store sales, the company said on Monday.

Still, McDonald’s cautioned that at current currency exchange rates the stronger dollar would cut first-quarter earnings by 7 to 9 cents a share. Analysts, on average, expect the company to post a first-quarter profit of 83 cents per share excluding stock-based compensation, according to Reuters Estimates.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Larry Miller said same-store sales were “better than fine,” noting that the company repeated an earlier warning about the impact of the stronger dollar and said commodity costs could weigh on results.

“You could take that as a cautionary statement on the quarter,” Miller said.

The stronger dollar, which lessens the dollar-value of sales made overseas, would cut revenue by $600 million in the quarter at current rates, the company said.

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McDonald’s said “unprecedented volatility” in foreign currency exchange rates and commodity costs would continue to pressure revenue and margins.

Weaker foreign currencies -- including a significant decline in currencies of Eastern European countries, where McDonald’s mainly operates company-owned restaurants, are expected to be a drag.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Steve West, who has a “buy” rating on McDonald’s shares, said changes in February currency exchange rates caused reported sales to be 7.8 percent lower.

West maintained his 2009 and 2010 outlooks calling for earnings of $3.85 and $4.22 per share, respectively. He expects foreign exchange to weigh on results throughout this year, with some offset from a lower expected tax rate.

Still, McDonald’s and some other fast-food restaurants have benefited as a global economic downturn has sent customers to lower-priced fare, including the company’s Dollar Menu items.

“Consumers all over the world, especially in Europe and the United States, are looking for value and they are trading down,” Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo said. He added that McDonald’s sales for the month appeared to slightly beat consensus expectations after factoring out the calendar shift.

February same-store sales rose 2.8 percent in the U.S., due to strong sales of chicken products and the Quarter Pounder hamburger, McDonald’s said.

Same-store sales fell 0.2 percent in Europe, while same-store sales in the company’s Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa segment rose 0.7 percent.

All three regions were hurt to varying degrees by the decline in the number of days in the month.

Shares in McDonald’s were up 60 cents to $52.72 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

Shares in Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut parent Yum Brands Inc YUM.N and Wendy's/Arby's Group Inc WEN.N were down 1.7 percent and 3.4 percent respectively, while Burger King Holdings Inc BKC.N shares were up 1.7 percent.

Reporting by Brad Dorfman and Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Derek Caney