McDonald's Misses Despite McRib Sales

(McDonald's earnings report updated with additional analyst commentary and December sales data.)

OAK BROOK, Ill. ( TheStreet) -- McDonald's ( MCD) reported mixed fourth-quarter results early Monday morning.

McDonald's said it booked a 1.6% increase in fourth-quarter profits to $1.24 billion, or $1.16 per share, compared with year-earlier earnings of $1.22 billion, or $1.11 per share. Revenue came in 4% higher year-over-year at $6.21 billion, from $5.97 billion.

Excluding one-time items related to a license transaction in Latin America, adjusted earnings-per-share were $1.15, a penny below consensus estimates, and adjusted income was $1.22 billion, also below expectations.

Analysts' consensus call had been for McDonald's to book fourth-quarter profits of $1.23 billion , or $1.16 per share, on revenue of $6.22 billion. Analysts typically exclude one-time items when forecasting estimates.

Investors bid McDonald's shares sharply lower at the opening bell but the stock pared early losses and traded around 0.5% higher at $75.36 in late-afternoon trading.

"The results are not as impressive as a lot of people have been used to," noted RBC Capital Markets analyst Larry Miller. "We knew that weather was hurting them," he added, referring to adverse weather across the U.S. and in parts of Europe that hurt McDonald's sales in December.

McDonald's reported that global comparable same-store sales -- or sales at stores open at least one year, a key metric in the restaurant industry -- increased 5%, including 4.4% growth in the U.S., 3.4% in Europe and 5.5% in Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA).

"In 2011, we plan to invest about $2.5 billion of capital -- roughly half dedicated to opening approximately 1,100 new McDonald's restaurants and the other half allocated to investing in our existing locations, including reimaging," said CEO Jim Skinner.

"We are off to a good start in 2011 -- our momentum is continuing in January with global comparable sales expected to increase 4-5%," the CEO added.

Comps rose 3.7% in December, underperforming the 4% growth analysts had expected.

The company anticipates it will need to raise prices on some of its offerings this year in order to offset rising ingredient costs, CFO Peter Bensen said on a conference call with analysts Monday morning. The U.S. Department of agriculture said meat prices could increase by as much as 3.5% this year.

"China is a major focus and the stock has a potential longer-term to have a higher multiple as the China story unfolds, similar to what Yum! Brands ( YUM) has benefited from in the last couple of years," Oppenheimer analyst Matthew DiFrisco said in appearance on CNBC.

Like food and beverage peers Yum! and Starbucks ( SBUX), McDonald's has been looking overseas for growth.

McDonald's said in December it plans to grow its presence in China by 40% next year, opening 200 new stores in the country over the next three years.

McDonalds

The Golden Arches said its investment will include opening new restaurants and updating existing stores. Among the new store openings, about half will be drive-through locations, McDonald's said. McDonald's currently operates more than 1,200 restaurants in China.

McDonald's Asia President Tim Fenton alluded in November to the company's plans to have more than 2,000 restaurants in China within the next four years.

McDonald's also plans to double its presence in South Korea within the next five years . That would bring McDonald's total presence in Korea to around 500 restaurants.

DiFrisco likened McDonald's to the " Wal-Mart ( WMT) of restaurants" in terms of its ability to manage costs on a large scale.

Several major fast food operators have decided to divest their least successful business segments in order to streamline their businesses and focus on more lucrative prospects.

Last week Yum! said it plans to put restaurant chains Long John Silver's and A&W All-American Restaurants up for sale as it pushes to expand in international markets .

Then Wendy's Arby's ( WEN) said Thursday it will unload its Arby's Roast Beef Sandwich chain to focus on its Wendy's Hamburger business. The company said that divesting Arby's, which makes up about 30% of its overall revenues, would allow it to concentrate on its namesake hamburger chain where sales have not declined as severely.

Europe-based comps and guest counts grew in McDonald's recent quarter but the company said severe weather conditions in Germany and the U.K. tempered results. France and Russia led quarterly operating income growth of 2%. Results across McDonald's Europe segment reflected ongoing restaurant modernization, expanded drive-thru service and four-tier menu pricing.

Still, DiFrisco said slower sales in Europe will raise questions among investors about the health of European consumerism.

"The skeptical investor is going to look at this and say, 'Is this the beginning of austerity measures and the tightening of European McDonald's consumer?'"

Results were generally in-line, said Piper Jaffray analyst Nicole Miller Regan, who maintained an overweight rating on McDonald's shares, told CNBC. She said growth is coming from the fast food chain's lunch business, its most positive segment.

The analyst added that McDonald's breakfast and beverage platforms of sales remained positive in the recent quarter but not as strong as in the fourth quarter a year earlier.

Despite inclement weather across the U.S. in December, improved sales results were attributed to the limited-time offering of the McRib sandwich, low-priced menu items, the popular Monopoly promotion and the introduction of the Caramel Mocha to the McCafe lineup of beverages.

Strength in Japan, Australia and China led growth in McDonald's APMEA region where operating income grew 18%.

-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Miriam Reimer.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/miriamsmarket.

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