US fastfood company McDonald’s has said it expects a 38% rise in first-quarter earnings, boosted by strong sales.

The company said global systemwide sales for McDonald’s restaurants, which include sales at all McDonald’s restaurants, including those operated by the company, franchisees and affiliates, increased 11.5% in March and 17.5% for the first quarter compared with the same periods in 2003. In constant currencies, these increases were 5.8% and 10.3% for the month and quarter, respectively.

Comparable sales for McDonald’s restaurants, which represent sales at systemwide restaurants in operation at least thirteen months, excluding the impact of currency translation, increased 5.0% for the month and 9.4% for the quarter.

“Our US business posted exceptional results for the first three months of 2004, with March and first quarter comparable sales increases of 9.9% and 14.2% respectively. While more challenging months lie ahead, given strong US comparable sales last year, I remain confident in our Plan to Win,” said CEO Jim Cantalupo.

“While Europe’s first quarter comparable sales increased 3.5%, March’s 2.9% decrease in comparable sales was disappointing despite the fact that most of the decrease related to a negative trading day impact,” he added.

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Cantalupo said the company was working to create sustainable momentum across Europe. In early April, both the UK and Germany launched a Salads Plus menu and in the coming months more than a dozen additional European markets will introduce the Salads Plus menu.

The company expects first-quarter diluted earnings per share to be about 40 cents, a 38% increase compared to the first quarter of 2003.