After Market: A Good Day for Tech; New Records for Dow, S&P 500

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Two tech giants continued to shine in the markets Wednesday: Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) shares jumped 9 percent, rising to their highest level in more than a year. The stock has now soared 121 percent over the past 12 months. The latest spark was a better-than-expected earnings report. And Apple (AAPL) may have broken out of its recent trading range. It gained another 2 percent and is now trading above $545 a share.
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Overall, trading volume was light as investors and traders hit the road ahead of the holiday. Of course, the market is closed on Thursday, and there's only a half-day of trading on Friday.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 24 points, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) edged up 4 -- both to new record highs -- and the Nasdaq composite index (^IXIC) jumped 27 points, bolstered by two of the index's best performers this year.

Tesla (TSLA) rose 5 percent. It's well off its all-time high, but still up 290 percent from a year ago. And Biogen-Idec (BIIB) added 1.5 percent on investor optimism about its multiple sclerosis drug.

And as retailers wait for -- and hope for -- a shopper onslaught, some key players moved higher.

J.C. Penney (JCP) jumped more than 7 percent. It sees higher holiday sales. Macy's (M) and Target (TGT) both added about 1 percent, and Walmart (WMT) edged to an all-time high.

Also Moving Up:
  • Sodastream (SODA) bubbled up by 3 percent after introducing pre-measured, single-use capsules for its make-your-own machines.
  • Foster Wheeler gained 6 percent on reports the engineering firm is in talks to be acquired.
  • And footwear maker Crocs (CROX) gained 2 percent. It's said to be in talks about an investment from a buyout firm.

On the Downside:
  • Tivo (TIVO) lost 4 percent despite reporting sharply higher revenue and an increase in subscribers.
  • Infoblox (BLOX) tumbled 29 percent as the maker of network automation technology posted a wider loss and issued a disappointing forecast.
  • And several companies in the oil patch slipped as U.S. crude oil inventories rose more than expected. Newfield Exploration (NFX), Laredo Petroleum (LPI) and Noble Energy (NBL) all lost more than 4 percent.

What to Watch Thursday:

  • U.S. financial markets are closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.
What to Watch Friday:
  • U.S. stock markets close at 1 p.m. Eastern time; bond markets at 2 p.m.
-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

5 Less-Known Restaurant Chains You Should Eat At and Invest In
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After Market: A Good Day for Tech; New Records for Dow, S&P 500

If investors are hungry for something a little more exciting, thankfully there's no shortage of faster growing publicly traded restaurant chains that are doing just fine.

So sorry, Olive Garden. You may still offer tasty breadsticks, but that's not the kind of rising dough that investors -- and diners -- crave these days.

One of this summer's hottest IPOs was for Noodles & Company (NDLS), a fast casual restaurant chain that specializes in all types of noodles. Olive Garden bashers will find plenty of Italian pastas on the menu, but diners can also be globetrotters by checking out Asian noodle bowls or come closer to home with the classic Americana comfort food of mac and cheese.

Unlike the many table service restaurants facing an alarming number of empty tables, Noodles & Company has delivered positive comps in 29 of the past 30 quarters. Revenue climbed 17 percent to $300.4 million last year, and it's on pace for similar growth through the first half of this year.  

Ignite Restaurant Group (IRG) owns and operates 134 Joe's Crab Shacks and 16 Brick House Tavern + Taps. The operator essentially doubled in size in April when it acquired smaller Olive Garden rival Romano's Macaroni Grill. The 186-unit Italian casual dining chain was once owned by Brinker, and it's a work in progress. Comps were positive at Ignite's two original concepts in its latest quarter, but the same can't be said for Macaroni Grill.

Then again, the sluggish performance at Macaroni Grill also led to an attractive acquisition price. With Macaroni Grill butting pasta bowls with Olive Garden and Joe's Crab Shack fishing against Red Lobster, we can possibly call Ignite a mini Darden. That's a good thing, especially since Ignite has a lot of room for any of its three concepts to grow before it saturates the market.

Casual dining and Mexican don't mix well over time. There's probably a shuttered El Torito, Chi Chi's or Chevy's somewhere near you.

However, Chuy's (CHUY) has raised the bar by creating a lively environment filled with Elvis shrines and customer-submitted dog photos, and it's winning over patrons with its extensive happy hour specials and a bargain-minded menu where nearly every entree costs less than $10.

Chuy's sales surged 23 percent in its latest quarter, and with just 45 locations across twelve states, there are still plenty more places for pooch snapshots and Elvis busts to go up.
As one of the largest franchisees of Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD), Diversified's (BAGR) largest concept is no stranger to most sports bar enthusiasts. However, the reason that Diversified makes the cut is because it's in the process of rapidly expanding its proprietary Bagger Dave's Legendary Burger Tavern.

There were just 13 of the full-service, ultra-casual restaurant and bar units open by the end of June, but Diversified is hoping to open another six locations later this year. It may soon rival the nearly three dozen Buffalo Wild Wings eateries that it currently watches over. The genius here is that it's probably putting a lot of what it learned at Buffalo Wild Wings into practice at Bagger Dave's.

Revenue soared 61 percent in its latest quarter, propelled almost entirely by new restaurants, but there was still a healthy 7 percent spike in same-store sales during the period. 
Customers looking to trade up from fast food without shelling out more in time and money at a casual dining concept are flocking to fast casual chains that deliver quality ethnic dishes quickly.

Fiesta (FRGI) owns and operates 96 Pollo Tropical restaurants (primarily in South Florida) and 164 Taco Cabana eateries (mostly in Texas). The company also has dozens of franchised locations, especially overseas, as its Latin American-inspired Pollo Tropical rotisserie chicken has proven to be a potent export.

Revenue climbed 9 percent in its latest quarter, fueled by a healthy 6 percent spike in same-restaurant sales at Pollo Tropical.
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