Wendy's International Inc., operator of the third-largest U.S. hamburger chain, said on Friday its fourth-quarter earnings rose, helped by sales improvements at both its Wendy's and Tim Hortons donut chains.

The company reported net income of $46.6 million, or 42 cents a share, compared with $34.4 million, or 29 cents a share, a year earlier. In the year earlier quarter, Wendy's had an $18 million pretax charge. 

Wendy's was expected to earn 41 cents to 43 cents a share, with a mean estimate of 42 cents, according to research firm Thomson Financial/First Call. In December, Wendy's reaffirmed its expectation for full-year earnings of $1.64 to $1.67 a share for 2001. 

Systemwide sales rose 8.5 percent to $2.1 billion. 

Fourth-quarter same-store sales at Wendy's, or those at units opened at least one year, grew 2.4 percent at the company's U.S. company restaurants, while those at Tim Hortons' Canadian restaurants rose 8 percent, Wendy's said. 

The company said that preliminary January results were strong, with Wendy's U.S. company same-store sales up 6.7 percent, and Tim Hortons Canadian units up 8.1 percent. 

``Obviously, they're on target with their EPS (earnings per share),'' said Bear Stearns analyst Joe Buckley, who rates the shares attractive. ``The comps (same-store sales) for January were quite good. The first quarter is off to a really good start.'' 

Wendy's last month lost its founder and long-time Chairman Dave Thomas to liver cancer. Thomas' death marked an end to more than 10 years of self-effacing advertising. His affable personality and down-to-earth style helped sell the company's products. 

Wendy's stock has risen more than 13 percent since September, and has outperformed that S&P 500 Index by nearly 17 percent in the same time period. 

Shares of the company, which trails larger hamburger rivals McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Corp., were up 25 cents to $32.21 at early afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.