Wendy's/Arby's Group Inc , the third-largest U.S. fast-food restaurant operator, issued a 2010 earnings growth forecast below Wall Street's view, sending its shares down 1.6 percent.

Wendy's/Arby's, which plans to spend more in 2010 to boost results, also reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit on Thursday despite continued declines in closely watched same-store sales at both its Wendy's and Arby's chains.

The company forecast 2010 growth in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in the low- to mid-single digits, excluding the effect of an extra week of results in 2009 and an incremental expense for the Wendy's breakfast program in 2010 to expand into additional markets.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Larry Miller said in a client note that the guidance equates to 2010 EBITDA of $430 million to $445 million, missing the consensus estimate of $450 million.

The company, formed after Arby's owner Triarc bought Wendy's International Inc for just over $2 billion in September 2008, has struggled to keep up with its peers.

The restaurant operator reported that overall fourth-quarter same-store sales at established restaurants fell, but said trends got a lift in January as both Wendy's and Arby's focused on value-priced menus.

Fourth-quarter systemwide sales at established Wendy's restaurants in North America dropped 3 percent, weakened by the removal of breakfast from about 300 restaurants. Arby's North America systemwide same-store sales plunged 11 percent.

By comparison, industry leader McDonald's Corp reported a 1 percent rise in fourth-quarter U.S. systemwide sales.

Systemwide sales include sales at all established restaurants, whether operated by the company or by franchisees.

Several large fast-food chains recently have reported declines in same-store sales as unemployment among young men and minorities -- groups that account for a large percentage of fast-food diners -- hovers at rates higher than the national average. Still, declines of 10 percent or more are seen as red flags.

As a result, investors remain cautious about Wendy's/Arby's, which is working to turn around its brands at a time when industry discounting is rampant and threatens to squeeze profits.

The company said same-store sales should rise at Wendy's this year but fall at Arby's as it works on improvements. Plans for 2010 include expanding Wendy's breakfast program to more markets and significantly remodeling Arby's locations.

Spending behind such initiatives, along with weak economic conditions, will lead to modest adjusted growth in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2010, President and Chief Executive Roland Smith said in a statement.

Wendy's/Arby's said North American company-operated same-store sales trends improved in January, as Wendy's promoted items such as 99-cent spicy chicken nuggets and Arby's expanded its $1 value menu to more than 2,500 restaurants.

January same-store sales at North American company-operated locations rose 0.3 percent at Wendy's and fell 7.4 percent at Arby's.

The company's fourth-quarter net loss narrowed to $13.6 million, or 3 cents per share, from $393.2 million, or 84 cents per share, a year earlier, when it booked significant charges.

Excluding charges, Wendy's/Arby's earned 7 cents a share in the latest quarter, topping analysts' average forecast of 3 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Consolidated fourth-quarter revenue from the 10,000-plus restaurant chain rose 0.5 percent to $900.9 million, below the $914.8 million analysts had expected.

Capital expenditures are expected to rise nearly 62 percent to $165 million this year, including investments in 12 new Wendy's restaurants and the remodeling of 100 company-owned restaurants at each brand.

Wendy's/Arby's shares were down 1.6 percent $4.86 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Derek Caney and John Wallace)