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McDonald's Sales Slip 0.6% in April

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

McDonald's April sales at established restaurants declined slightly more than analysts had expected as it faced tougher times in Europe, Asia/Pacific, Middle East, and Africa.

The world's biggest restaurant chain by sales is coming off a long run of outperforming smaller rivals, which have recently been more nimble in introducing attention-getting menu items. Results have also been affected by the avian flu.

Global sales at McDonald's restaurants open at least 13 months declined 0.6 percent in April, a little more than the 0.48 percent fall analysts on average had estimated, according to Consensus Metrix.

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April same-restaurant sales fell 2.4 percent in Europe and 2.9 percent in the Asia/Pacific, Middle East, and Africa (APMEA) region. The chain blamed the impact of the new strain of avian flu in China for the decline, as well as softness in Japan and Australia. Rival Yum Brands, which owns KFC and is China's biggest Western fast-food company, has also been slammed by the bird flu.

McDonald's same-restaurant sales in the U.S. rose 0.7 percent.

Analysts had expected a 0.05 percent decline in the United States, a 1.01 percent fall in Europe and a 1.44 percent drop in APMEA, according to Consensus Metrix.

After years of outperforming rivals, McDonald's has been struggling to boost sales as it faces intensifying competition, changing eating habits, and weak growth in the broader restaurant industry. Late last year, the company reported a decline in its monthly sales figure for the first time in nearly a decade. Soon after, the company ousted the head of its U.S. division.

CEO Don Thompson, who took over the top spot this summer, has said repeatedly that the company will focus on emphasizing value to capture market share in the tough environment. Analysts have raised concerns that the strategy could eat into profit margins. But McDonald's executives say that short-term sacrifice is necessary to build customer loyalty and ensure the long-term health of the company.

(Read More: Yum's China Sales Fall Sharply Amid Bird-Flu Scare)

The chain is also working to make its food more relevant to shifting tastes. Its chicken McWraps, for example, are intended to cater to people who are seeking out fresher, healthier items. The company also recently introduced a lower-calorie version of its Egg McMuffin made with egg whites and a whole grain muffin.

Sales at restaurants open at least 13 months is a key metric because it strips out the impact of newly opened and closed locations.

McDonald's, which was more than 34,000 locations around the world, noted that it had one less Sunday and one more Tuesday in April of this year compared with April of last year. Sales are generally stronger on weekends.

(Read More: All-Day Breakfast May Be in Our Future: McDonald's CEO)

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