Darden Rises on Solid Earnings

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Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE: DRI) reported its fiscal first-quarter financial results before the markets opened on Tuesday. The company said that it had $0.88 in earnings per share (EPS) on $1.71 billion in revenue. The same period of the previous year reportedly had EPS of $0.68 and revenue of $1.69 billion. There were consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters of $0.82 in EPS on $1.72 billion in revenue.

During the quarter, Darden repurchased about 3.2 million shares of its common stock for a total cost of approximately $196 million. An additional $4 million in shares were repurchased subsequent to the close of the first quarter, for a total of $200 million in shares repurchased year to date.

Separately, the board of directors authorized a new share repurchase program for an additional $500 million. Keep in mind the total market cap for Darden totals $7.7 billion.

In terms of guidance for the fiscal full year, the company expects to have EPS in the range of $3.80 to $3.90, with same-store sales growing between 1% and 2%. The consensus estimates call for $5.57 billion in revenue.

Gene Lee, CEO of Darden, commented:

I’m pleased with our performance during the quarter and the progress we made against our strategic initiatives. We continued to gain market share and our same-restaurant sales growth outperformed the industry by a considerable margin.  We also returned significant capital to shareholders in the form of our regular dividend and $196 million in share repurchases.

On the books, Darden’s cash and cash equivalents totaled $114.7 million at the end of the quarter, down from $274.8 million at the end of the previous fiscal year.

Shares of Darden closed Monday at $61.36, with a consensus analyst price target of $69.09 and a 52-week trading range of $53.38 to $68.83. Following the release of the earnings report, the stock was up nearly 5% at $64.31 in early trading indications Tuesday.