Starbucks Corp. Thursday said sales at stores open at least 13 months rose 7 percent during the four weeks ended Jan. 27, its best showing in the last 12 months.

"These numbers look very, very good," said Salomon Smith Barney analyst Mark Kalinowski, who had been expecting an increase of 5 or 6 percent.

The January increase follows a 3-percent December gain, which ended a string of anemic 1 percent gains last fall.

But the company said it was sticking with its projection of low single-digit percentage growth in same-store sales for the full year.

"January was a very strong month, but I don't expect 7 percent to be a regular thing," Chief Financial Officer Michael Casey told Reuters by telephone. "The business is really firing on all cylinders."

The Seattle-based coffee shop chain also posted net revenues of $229 million for the month, up 24 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Before the announcement, Starbucks shares rose $1.01, or 4.4 percent, to close at $23.77 on Nasdaq.

Starbucks said its popular new stored-value card contributed to the improved performance.

"Our customers have embraced the Starbucks Card as a convenient and regular purchasing method," CEO Orin Smith said in a statement.

Starbucks opened 71 new stores in January, including 11 outside North America, boosting its total store base to 5,175. Company executives have predicted the chain will ultimately grow to more than 20,000 stores.

Starbucks also reiterated its projections that it would earn 54 cents to 55 cents per share for the full year 2002 on revenues slated to grow 20 percent.