updated 4/13/2005 10:50:18 AM ET 2005-04-13T14:50:18

McDonald’s Corp., the nation’s biggest fast-food restaurant chain, said Wednesday that it expects to report a first-quarter profit above Wall Street estimates.

The company expects to post profit of 56 cents per share, up 40 percent from a year ago. Excluding a tax benefit and expenses from stock-based compensation, McDonald’s said earnings will be 46 cents per share. On that basis, the results surpass the average analyst estimate for profit of 42 cents per share from a Thomson Financial survey.

McDonald’s said global same-store sales, which include only restaurants that have been open at least a year, rose 6.8 percent in March and 4.6 percent for the January-March period. U.S. same-stores sales rose 6.8 percent in March and 5.2 percent for the quarter.

Europe sales rose 6.6 percent for the month and 2.9 percent for the quarter. In other regions, Japan, Australia and Taiwan all posted strong sales results, McDonald’s said.

Total sales increased 8 percent for the quarter compared with a year ago. Analysts are looking for sales to grow about 6 percent to $4.68 billion for the quarter.

Excluding exchange rate effects, sales would have risen a more modest 6 percent, McDonald’s said. So far this year, McDonald’s same-store sales are up 4.6 percent from the same period of 2004.

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