Darden Restaurants Inc. shares rose 4.2% in Thursday premarket trading after the Olive Garden parent reported fiscal third-quarter earnings and sales that beat the Street. Net income totaled $128.7 million, or 98 cents per share, down from $232.3 million, or $1.89 per share, last year. Sales of $1.733 billion were down from $2.347 billion last year. The FactSet consensus was for EPS of 70 cents and sales of $1.625 billion. Same-restaurant sales fell 26.7%, with Olive Garden down 25.8%, Longhorn Steakhouse down 12.6% and the fine dining business, which includes The Capitale Grill, down 45.2%. The FactSet consensus was for a decline of 31.2%. Same-restaurant sales have been increasing week-to-week, turning positive, up 5.4%, the week ending March 21. Olive Garden was up 5.7% and Longhorn Steakhouse was up 23.2%. Nearly all restaurants, 99%, were open with at least limited dining room capacity. Darden declared a quarterly dividend of 88 cents per share, payable on May 3 to shareholders of record as of April 9. And the company’s board has authorized a new $500 million share repurchase program. Darden said it will invest $17 million in a one-time worker bonus for hourly team members. Gene Lee, chief executive of Darden, says it has invested $200 million in worker bonuses since March 2020. And it will raise the minimum wage for workers to $10 per hour, including tips, starting Monday. That amount will increase to $11 in January 2022, and $12 in January 2023. “Continuing to attract and retain the best talent in the industry will be critical to our success, and this commitment further solidifies our position as the employer of choice in full-service dining,” Lee said in a statement. For the fiscal fourth quarter, Darden is forecasting sales of $2.1 billion and EPS of $1.60 to $1.70. The FactSet consensus is for sales of $1.945 billion and EPS of $1.25. Darden stock has soared 129.1% over the last year, with shares up 13.6% in the last three months. The benchmark S&P 500 index is up 57.1% over the past 12 months.
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