Starbucks Corp posted its first quarterly rise in U.S. same-store sales in two years, signaling that recession-weary consumers are spending more on small, daily luxuries.

Shares in the company, which also raised its 2010 earnings forecast after fiscal first-quarter profits topped Wall Street expectations, rose nearly 3 percent in extended trade.

The coffee chain's latest financial report pointed to a return to growth in the company's crucial U.S. market.

Sales at U.S. restaurants open at least 12 months rose 4 percent during the quarter ended December 27, boosted by the company's new Via instant coffee, holiday drinks and select price increases.

The last time Starbucks posted a gain in U.S. same-store sales was the fiscal fourth quarter ended September 2007.

Chief Financial Officer Troy Alstead told Reuters the same-store sales improvement was both broad-based and sustainable.

It still is a luxury you can afford. You're not giving up your retirement to be able to enjoy that great experience every morning, he said of the $3 and $4 espresso drinks that are the backbone of the Starbucks' business.

Still, the company is aware of the profound economic uncertainties in the global economy, Chief Executive Howard Schultz said on the Wednesday conference call.

To that end, executives expect 2010 same-store sales growth to be modestly positive as high unemployment and lingering problems with home mortgages persist.


The Seattle-based chain, which slashed costs and shuttered more than 900 outlets in a broad-based restructuring, raised its forecast to call for earnings per share in the range of $1.05 to $1.08, excluding about 3 cents per share in restructuring charges, an increase of more than 30 percent from the previous year.

The biggest surprise was how much they raised guidance this early in the year, said Sharon Zackfia, analyst, William Blair & Co, who said the company's previous growth forecast implied earnings in the range of 92 cents to 96 cents a share.

The results from Starbucks landed as Panera Bread Co
, known for its fresh baked goods and indulgent sandwiches, announced that its same-restaurant sales leaped more than 7.4 percent in the fourth quarter.

Starbucks' net income more than tripled to $241.5 million, or 32 cents per share, for the fiscal first quarter that covers the U.S. holidays. Excluding items, Starbucks earned 33 cents a share in the latest quarter, topping analysts' average forecast of 28 cents per share.

Total net revenue rose 4.1 percent to $2.7 billion.

On Wednesday, Schultz said the company is now focusing on sharpening operations in its international business and the division that sells prepared foods like bagged coffee, ice cream, Via and bottled drinks.

Shares in Starbucks, which closed at $23.29 on the Nasdaq, rose to $24 in extended trade. The stock hit a 52-week low of $8.12 in March when U.S. stocks were at a nadir.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing Bernard Orr)