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McDonald's sales hit by weakness in Asia, Europe

NEW YORK McDonald's (MCD) says a key sales figure slipped again in April, with the world's biggest hamburger chain citing fears over a new strain of avian flu for weakness in China.

The Oak Brook, Illinois-based chain says the figure was down 0.6 percent globally. That included a 0.7 percent increase in the U.S., where it recently introduced its chicken McWraps to attract more customers in their 20s and 30s.

But it fell 2.4 percent in Europe, its biggest market by sales. In the region encompassing Asia, the Middle East and Africa, it was down 2.9 percent. The chain blamed the impact of the avian flu in China for the decline, as well as softness in Japan and Australia.

Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC and is China's biggest Western fast-food company, has also been slammed by the new strain of avian flu. It warned late last month that sales at established restaurants in China were down about 30 percent in April. Yum is also trying to recover from a controversy over its chicken suppliers that surfaced late last year.

After years of outperforming rivals, McDonald's has been struggling to increase sales as it faces increasing competition, changing eating habits and slow growth in the broader restaurant industry. CEO Don Thompson, who took over the top spot this summer, has said that the company will focus on emphasizing value to capture market share in the tough environment.

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.

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