Supersize Sales at McDonald's

Good grief, McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) ! Those are some awesome comparable-store sales for December. It's difficult not to be impressed by the performance of the Golden Arches over the course of the past year.

McDonald's global same-store sales increased 7.2% in December (versus a 5% increase last year). In the U.S., comps increased 6.9%, and in Europe, they increased 8.2% (versus 4.4% and 4.6% increases last year, respectively.) The Asia Pacific, Middle East, and African segment wasn't quite as strong in December, with a 4.8% increase, compared with a 5.9% increase this time last year.

About its success domestically, McDonald's cited ongoing strength with its breakfast offerings, its Snack Wraps, and its premium chicken menu options.

McDonald's also reported its comps for the fourth quarter and for the year. Same-store sales increased 6.3% for the fourth quarter (versus 4.2% a year ago), and 5.7% for all of 2006 (versus 3.9% for 2005). The company also said it will report earnings of $1.00 per share for the quarter, although that is aided by a $0.39 per-share benefit from its Chipotle (NYSE: CMG  ) spinoff. Still, analysts were expecting earnings of $0.58 per share, and of course, McDonald's earnings from continuing operations come in at $0.61 per share, aided by a penny benefit from foreign currency translation.

It would be easy to say that maybe McDonald's has gone too far, too fast, and its hungry competition like Burger King (NYSE: BKC  ) and Wendy's (NYSE: WEN  ) might start to eat its lunch, but I got burned by questioning McDonald's ongoing strength this time last year.

I was a little bit bearish on McDonald's, and I was still skeptical in the spring, but I've certainly had to eat crow since then. (Supersize that crow, please.) As the year progressed, and McDonald's kept delivering, I finally ended up coming around and nominating McDonald's as the Best Blue Chip for 2007 for the Motley Fool CAPS community to consider. CAPS players didn't agree that it will be "the best," but shareholders certainly can't complain at this stage of the game. The shares have appreciated 28.3% over the past 12 months and hit a new 52-week high today.

It's clear that McDonald's didn't stage any temporary turnaround -- it seems that the company is really delivering on its goal to not only be bigger, but better as well. Of course, we'll all have to wait and see what 2007 holds for this fast food giant, but for the time being, I'm not sure it would be prudent to bet against McDonald's.

McDonald's paid a meaty dividend this past year; if you're looking for dividend-paying stocks, look no further than Motley Fool Income Investor. A 30-day free trial can help you learn how to get paid to invest.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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