UPDATE 2-McDonald's Feb sales fall less than feared, shares rise
* Feb comparable sales down 1.5 percent
* Economy, extra day in February 2012 weigh on results
* Shares up nearly 2 percent
March 8 (Reuters) - McDonald's Corp said on Friday that February sales at established restaurants fell less than expected in the United States and around the globe as customers continued to grapple with economic uncertainty.
U.S. sales at restaurants open at least 13 months fell 3.3 percent, less than the 3.55 percent drop analysts estimated, according to Consensus Metrix.
Investors paid extra attention to results from the United States, because the Jan. 1 payroll tax hike, higher gas prices and delayed federal tax returns have hurt sales at restaurant chains and retailers ranging from Darden Restaurants Inc , the parent of Olive Garden, to Wal-Mart Stores Inc .
The United States is McDonald's second-largest market for revenue, just behind Europe.
Global same-restaurant sales at the world's biggest hamburger chain were down 1.5 percent, less than the 1.63 percent decline expected by analysts polled by Consensus Metrix.
Excluding the impact of an extra day in February 2012 due to the leap year, comparable sales were up 1.7 percent globally and rose everywhere except the United States, where sales were flat.
Shares of McDonald's rose nearly 2 percent to $98.91 in early trade.
In Europe, comparable sales fell 0.5 percent, roughly in line with the analysts' target of a 0.46 percent decline.
Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA) reported a drop of 1.6 percent, slightly better than the 1.69 percent fall that analysts estimated.
McDonald's remained confident in the "fundamental strength" of its business, President and Chief Executive Don Thompson said in a statement.
"We have the operating experience to manage through the current challenging environment and the right strategies in place to grow the business for the long term," he said.
The company is shaking up its menu in the United States, where resurgent rivals such as Burger King Worldwide Inc and Wendy's Co have lured away diners with fast-changing menus.
McDonald's plans to cut its Fruit & Walnut Salad and Chicken Selects from domestic menus and is weighing whether to keep its "premium" Angus burgers. Removing them will clear space for new items and more limited-time offers.
Cracks in McDonald's business first appeared in October, when the company reported its first global monthly restaurant sales decline in nine years.
Results have been lackluster since, as weak economies around the world make it difficult for McDonald's to post growth on top of strong results last year.
McDonald's recently warned it expects sales and profit growth to be under pressure as customers spend cautiously due to a lackluster economic performance in most of its major markets.