Starbucks Corp posted its first quarterly rise in U.S. same-store sales in more than 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 its fiscal first-quarter profit 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 company's 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, the company said it expected same-store sales growth to be modestly positive for 2010 as high unemployment and lingering problems with home mortgages persist.

SMOOTHER SAILING AHEAD

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.

That exceeded Wall Street's expectation for $1.02, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The results from Starbucks and bakery cafe operator Panera
, which said on Wednesday that comparable store sales leaped more than 9 percent in December, also suggested consumers are again willing to indulge in small luxuries after many months of frugality.

Net income was $241.5 million, or 32 cents per share, for the fiscal first quarter. A year earlier, Starbucks' net income was $64.3 million, or 9 cents per share, in the 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 was rose to $2.7 billion compared with $2.6 billion a year earlier.

Starbucks is now amassing significant cash, a heightened turn of fortune for the chain. Schultz, who returned to the helm two years ago, recently admitted the chain had trouble paying its dairy bills when sales fell and a bloated operating structure chewed up cash.

On Wednesday, Schultz said the company is now focusing on sharpening operations in its international business and the division that sells canned or packaged drinks.

And, while its instant coffee brand Via boosted sales in the latest quarter, CFO Alstead said it would be profit neutral this year as proceeds from sales are reinvested into the business.

Shares in Starbucks, which closed at $23.29 on the Nasdaq, rose to $23.96 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)