updated 4/13/2006 3:22:22 PM ET 2006-04-13T19:22:22

McDonald's Corp. said Thursday it expects to report first-quarter earnings of about 49 cents per share, in line with Wall Street's expectations but down more than 12 percent from a year ago when it recorded a substantial tax gain.

The update came as the world's largest fast-food company announced that comparable sales in March rose 5.3 percent overall and 6.6 percent in U.S. restaurants, marking 35 straight months of gains for worldwide sales.

The company said its quarterly results will reflect a reduction to earnings of 1 cent per share from a weak dollar, a charge of 5 cents related to store actions and a 4-cent gain from the initial public offering of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.

The 49 cents per-share forecast matches the consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial. First-quarter earnings a year ago were 56 cents per share, which included a gain of 13 cents per share from a favorable audit settlement.

McDonald's said March same-store sales _ those from restaurants open at least 13 months _ rose 1.6 percent in Europe and 5 percent in the Asia, Middle East and Africa segment.

Total dollar sales from McDonald's restaurants increased 3.3 percent for March after swelling 6.3 percent last year, based on last year's average exchange rates. U.S. sales were up 7.4 percent in March and Asia, Middle East and Africa sales edged 0.2 percent higher, while European sales were down 6 percent.

McDonald's same-store sales were up 5.2 percent over last year's first quarter and total sales climbed 3.5 percent in the quarter, the company said.

Analysts said McDonald's U.S. sales were buoyed by the introduction of new premium coffee, strong breakfast sales overall, the recent debut of the Arch Card debit card and extended hours.

"We expect continued benefit from extended hours as more restaurants shift to 24-hour service," said John Ivankoe of J.P. Morgan, noting that about 30 percent of McDonald's in the United States now are open 24 hours.

Ivankoe said the company is not seeing any significant global sales impact from bird flu concerns.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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