Wendy's International Inc. , operator of the No. 3 U.S. hamburger chain, Monday forecast earnings per share growth of 12 percent to 15 percent this year, helped by sales growth and new stores -- a more conservative outlook than that of some analysts.

Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's, which on Friday reported a 35 percent jump in fourth-quarter earnings, said it expects 2002 earnings of $1.82 to $1.87 a share before asset gains, Kerrii Anderson, chief financial officer, told analysts during a presentation.

Analysts have forecast earnings per share of $1.84 to $1.92, with a consensus estimate of $1.89 a share, according to market research firm Thomson Financial/First Call.

Wendy's also said that the estate of founder Dave Thomas, who died in January, exercised all its stock options, acquiring 1.2 million shares and bringing $25 million to the company.

The company said that a lower tax rate and the elimination of the amortization of goodwill could add 2 cents a share to 2002 earnings, while a weaker Canadian dollar could cut 2 cents to 4 cents a share. Lower interest income could cut another penny or two, the company said. The company also only expects to reap 1 cent a share from asset gains, down from 3 cents a year before.

Wendy's, whose hamburger sales trail those of larger rivals McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Corp., said it expects revenues to rise 7 percent to 8 percent in 2002 and expects to open 515 to 540 new Wendy's hamburger and Tim Hortons doughnut restaurants this year.

For all of 2001, Wendy's reported net income of $193.6 million or $1.65 per diluted share, including the 3 cents per share of asset gains, on revenues of $2.39 billion. During 2001, Wendy's and its franchisees opened 535 new restaurants systemwide.

Wendy's shares were down $1.40, or 4.4 percent, at $30.65 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.