McDonald's Sales Up, Profit Beats Expectations

McDonald's Corp. (MCD) Wednesday said sales at its namesake restaurants open at least 13 months rose 6.8 percent in March and reported preliminary first-quarter earnings that beat analysts expectations.

The company said preliminary earnings in the first quarter were about 56 cents a share, boosted by $179 million pretax benefit from the settlement of a tax audit.

Excluding the audit settlement and an expense of 3 cents a share related to stock-based compensation, earnings would be about 46 cents a share. Analysts on average forecast 44 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

"Sales continue to be above their long-term growth forecast," Dan Popowics, analyst at Fifth Third Asset Management (search) said. "I would say the stepped-up marketing and the menu additions are helping." Both Popowics and Fifth Third hold McDonald's shares.

McDonald's has had eight straight months of higher same-restaurant sales, helped by newer menu items like salads and new advertising.

Sales at stores open at least 13 months rose 4.6 percent in the quarter.

For March, U.S. same-restaurant sales rose 6.8 percent. In Europe same-store sales were up 6.6 percent, driven by new menu choices and improved service, the company said.

For the Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa segment, same-store sales rose 7.3 percent, helped by increased sales in Japan.

Total sales rose 11.2 percent in March and 8 percent in the first quarter, the company said.

McDonald's will release first-quarter earnings on April 21.