Earnings season is upon us, and while investors may not have liked Wednesday's early tidings from companies like Alcoa (NYSE:AA) and Monsanto (NYSE:MON), they took heart today following rosier news from companies like McDonald's (NYSE:MCD). All speculations about the health of the larger economy aside, it seems McDonald's has been going like gangbusters.

McDonald's said that it will beat Wall Street's estimates in its third quarter, with $0.68 per share in profit compared to analysts' expectation of $0.63. McDonald's same-store sales in September were strong, up 7.7% (compared to a 3.9% increase this time last year). For the third quarter, comps increased 5.8% (versus a 4.1% increase last year).

Of particular note was McDonald's strength in Europe -- same-store sales there were up 9% in September and 7.6% in the quarter. That's certainly good news, since earlier this year, its performance in Europe was one sticking point for some investors.

As the year has worn on, though, it seems like there's no end to McDonald's good news. It has finished cashing out its stake in Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG), and it plans to use that money to buy back shares. Meanwhile, it recently dangled a meaty dividend in front of its shareholders.

This is pretty amazing stuff from this company, which has managed an impressive turnaround in recent years. For quite some time, I've thought that McDonald's leadership position and successful turnaround efforts make it a much better deal for investors than rivals Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) or Burger King (NYSE:BKC).

Meanwhile, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital is still agitating for change at McDonald's. (Pershing also pressured Wendy's to spin off Tim Horton's (NYSE:THI).) Apparently, Pershing has continued buying up McDonald's shares in order to wage a proxy battle against management. Right now, however, I'd find it tough to dispute McDonald's management's insistence earlier this year that it could deliver more value to shareholders on its own terms.

McDonald's shares hit a new 52-week high today, and they have appreciated 30% in the last year. However, I wouldn't recommend hitting the brakes on this stock just yet. A P/E of 19 may sound pricey for a mature company like McDonald's, but considering its improving earnings picture and successful growth initiatives, as well as all the perks it has been offering to shareholders, it still sounds like an appetizing stock for the long term.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is crispy and lightly salted.