New menu items, Olympic sponsorships and the company's introduction of a $1 breakfast value menu in the United States helped the world's biggest hamburger chain surpass analysts' average call for overall same-store sales growth of 3.9 percent, Robert W. Baird & Co analyst David Tarantino said in a client note.
Sales at restaurants open at least 13 months rose 0.6 percent in the United States, 5.4 percent in Europe, and 10.5 percent in the Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA) region.
Chinese New Year celebrations, which fell in February this year versus January in 2009, helped lift results in APMEA, which has been a bright spot for McDonald's since the United States slipped into recession in 2007.
McDonald's has been more promotional than rivals like KFC parent Yum Brands Inc
While McDonald's continued to take share from its fast-food peers, both U.S. and European same-store sales numbers fell short of expectations, Oppenheimer analyst Matthew DiFrisco said.
DiFrisco, who rates the stock peer perform, said he was worried about the stock's price going forward as McDonald's is showing weakness in the United States and is about to encounter tougher year-over-year comparisons in Europe.
The valuation reflects that it is a better quick-service restaurant play right now than its peer group, but as far as going higher from here, I would think that they would need to have improving trends rather than sort of flat to decelerating trends, DiFrisco said.
While heavy snow, high unemployment and rampant discounting weighed on the chain's domestic results in February, the company did manage to eke out what is increasingly becoming a rarity -- positive domestic same-store sales. It said it got there with help from Olympic-themed Chicken McNuggets, the breakfast Dollar Menu and McCafe beverages.
This growth is impressive given continued high unemployment and the promotional (quick-service restaurant) environment, said Tarantino, the top-rated McDonald's analyst on StarMine.
Tarantino, who has an outperform rating on McDonald's shares, said he considers the stock's valuation attractive based on the company's solid near-term earnings outlook, operating history and other factors.
McDonald's and some other fast-food chains initially benefited when the global economic downturn sent U.S. diners to lower-priced fare.
But that so-called trade-down effect is no longer strong enough to offset a spending retreat by young men and minority groups, who account for a large number of fast-food customers and have unemployment rates much higher than the overall U.S. jobless rate.
Analysts said European same-store sales trends show signs of slowing, due to economic pressures in Europe.
McDonald's shares were up 2.6 percent at $65.33 in early afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan and Lisa Baertlein; editing by John Wallace, Dave Zimmerman and Matthew Lewis)