McDonald's beats earnings on surging US sales, China demand

Cramer: MCD's Easterbrook 'just starting'
Cramer: MCD's Easterbrook 'just starting'
McDonald's sees strong quarter
McDonald's sees strong quarter
Cramer's stocks to watch: MCD
Cramer's stocks to watch: MCD

McDonald's reported better-than-expected quarterly same-restaurant sales, helped by the launch of all-day breakfast in the United States and recovering demand in China.

Sales at U.S. restaurants open at least 13 months rose 5.7 percent, handily beating the average estimate of 2.7 percent.

McDonald's introduced all-day breakfast at its U.S. restaurants in October, in a bid to attract more diners in the face of growing competition from rivals such as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Shake Shack.

"As we enter 2016, we expect continued positive top-line momentum across all segments," said Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook, who took the helm last year.

A number of initiatives contributed to strength in the quarter, but all-day breakfast is attracting the most attention, said Jeffrey Bernstein, senior restaurant analyst at Barclays. Also boosting the brand were upgrades to key ingredients, a focus on improving customer service and the relaunch of McDonald's value platform under the banner of McPick 2, he said.

"People can't get enough of the Egg McMuffins in the afternoons and the evenings," he told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Monday. "Breakfast and value I think would be the key drivers, and as we move into 2016, I'm sure they'll refocus on some premium products as well."

A McDonald's restaurant in Brooklyn, New York.
McDonald's franchisees optimistic about sales growth

Investors can expect questions about whether McDonald's can survive the trend toward healthier options and its brand appeal among millennials for years to come, but for the moment, the chain faces easy comparisons with recent quarterly reports and has momentum on its side, Bernstein said.

The company has demonstrated it can execute new initiatives in a timely manner under the leadership of Easterbrook, R.J. Hottovy, senior restaurant analyst at Morningstar Global, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" after the earnings report.

"I think the key takeaway with the all-day breakfast is the fact they were able to roll it out in a matter of six months. That wasn't something we saw under previous leadership, and I think that bodes well for a lot of the new initiatives," he said.

Easterbrook also has been successful in aligning franchisees, suppliers and marketing professionals, leading to more effective new product launches, Hottovy said.

McDonald's does not break out China sales but said sales in its "high-growth" markets, which include Russia and China, rose 3 percent.

The company's net income climbed to $1.21 billion, or $1.31 per share, in the fourth quarter, from $1.1 billion, or $1.13 per share, a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of $1.23 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue fell 3.5 percent to $6.34 billion, mainly due to a strong dollar, but beat the average analyst estimate of $6.22 billion.

Shares in McDonald's were up more than 1 percent late morning Monday.

The franchise industry has gotten more good news

Wall Street had upped the ante for the quick-service brand, which has revamped its image after several years of market share declines. October's third-quarter earnings beat sent McDonald's shares to an all-time high, boosting the Dow by 47 points.

Monday's report is the first to reflect changes like all-day breakfast. Since then, several analysts have upgraded the company.

"Our channel checks suggest that in the short term, McDonald's has regained at least some of its mojo," wrote Nomura analyst Mark Kalinowski, when upgrading the stock this month. BTIG analyst Peter Saleh also wrote on Jan. 19 that he now has a "buy" rating on the stock.

The megachain serves 69 million customers daily with restaurants in 119 countries, according to data from its November investors meeting.

— CNBC's Katie Little, Tom DiChristopher and Reuters contributed to this report.