Darden Company Earnings and Forecast Taste Better with Dividend Hike


Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE: DRI) reported fourth-quarter and full-year 2013 results before markets opened this morning. The operator of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and other restaurant chains reported quarterly diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.01 on revenues of $2.3 billion. In the same period a year ago, Darden reported EPS of $1.15 on revenue of $2.07 billion. Fourth-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $1.04 and $2.27 billion in revenue.

For the full fiscal year, Darden posted EPS of $3.13 on revenues of $8.55 billion, compared with EPS of $3.57 on revenues of $8 billion in fiscal year 2012. The consensus estimate called for EPS of $3.16 on revenues of $8.52 billion.

For fiscal 2014, the company expects sales growth of 6% to 8%, which includes a quarter of sales from a recent acquisition, and EPS is forecast to fall by 3% to 5% from fiscal 2013 levels. Darden blames the earnings decrease accruals for incentive payouts that could increase by $0.35 a share over 2013 payouts, an increase of about $0.06 a share related to health care costs, as well as a benefit of approximately $0.08 a share related to lower costs and accounting adjustments for the recent acquisition.

To soften the bad news, Darden raised its quarterly dividend from $0.50 a share to $0.55.

The company's CEO said:

Looking ahead, we expect a macroeconomic environment that is similar in fiscal 2014 to what it was in fiscal 2013, with slow and uneven recovery in both the overall economy and our industry. That means many guests will continue to need and expect us to emphasize affordability. At the same time, the generational, multicultural and other dynamics that are changing tastes and preferences in a host of areas, including what consumers want from restaurants, will continue. So, in addition to our work to ensure appropriate affordability, we will remain focused on reshaping the guest experiences we provide.

Same-store sales rose 2.1% in fiscal 2013, and total sales were up 7.9%, which includes new restaurants and acquisitions. For the year, same-store sales at Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Longhorn Steakhouse were down 1.3%.

Darden's shares are down about 0.5% in premarket trading this morning to $51.00, in a 52-week range of $44.11 to $57.93. Thomson Reuters had a consensus analyst price target of around $51.75 before today's results were announced.

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Originally published