(By Balachander) Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE:DRI) posted quarterly earnings in line with Wall Street projections amid a 1.9 percent drop in same-restaurant sales at its three casual dining brands.
Orlando, Florida-based Darden, which raised its quarterly dividend by 16 percent to 50 cents, cited an earlier Lenten season and Easter holiday for lower sales.
Earnings from continuing operations were $151.6 million or $1.15 per share for the fourth quarter, up from $138.0 million or $1.00 per share in the corresponding period of last year.
Sales rose 3.8 percent to $2.06 billion, yet trailed consensus estimate of a growth of 5.90 percent to $2.14 billion.
U.S. same-restaurant sales fell 3.9 percent at Red Lobster and 1.8 percent at its Olive Garden restaurant, while rising 3.0 percent at LongHorn Steakhouse, the company said.
Looking ahead for fiscal 2013, Darden assumes blended same-restaurant sales growth for its three casual dining brands of between +1 percent and +2 percent, which is just below its targeted long-term range. It forecasts earnings per share growth between +8 percent and +12 percent, on sales growth between +6 percent and +7 percent.
The stock, which has been trading in the 52-week range between $40.69 and $55.84, ended Thursday's regular trading at $50.39.