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McDonald’s sales zoom 22.6%

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OAK BROOK, Ill. — McDonald's Corp.'s sales jumped a whopping 22.6 percent in February over last year's numbers, the fast-food chain said Friday, extending a recovery that began last spring and sending its stock to a nearly two-year high.

Comparable sales from McDonald's-brand restaurants worldwide, reflecting results from outlets open more than a year, were up a better-than-expected 13.9 percent in a key measure of the strength of McDonald's comeback.

The hamburger giant's 13,000-plus U.S. restaurants had the best showing, with comparable sales up 20 percent. Europe, where the recovery has been slower to take hold, posted a solid 7.7 percent increase.

Analysts and the company credited a combination of factors for the especially large U.S. gain: new products introduced since February 2003, less discounting, additional hours, the weak dollar and an extra day because of leap year.

McDonald's chairman and CEO Jim Cantalupo said that while some of the reasons for the impressive increase were unique, they show that the company's strategy is paying off.

"Our actions to improve the customer experience with better-tasting food, improved service, relevant marketing and enhanced menu variety are clearly working," he said.

McDonald's shares rose $1.01, or 3.5 percent, to close at $29.85 on the New York Stock Exchange — the highest level since June 2002 — after at least one analyst upgraded the stock's outlook.

Separately, McDonald's placed widespread newspaper advertisements Friday about an instant prize giveaway — the second of two required under a court settlement resulting from a $13 million promotional game scandal in 2000. The promotion runs through Sunday and will award 15 random $1 million prizes.