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Darden Earnings Jump

Darden Restaurants (DRI - Get Report) posted a 20% rise in second-quarter earnings amid sales growth at both its big chains, Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

For the quarter ended Aug. 26, the casual-dining chain owner earned $105.9 million, or 72 cents a share, up from $88.5 million, or 59 cents a share, a year earlier.

Earnings from continuing operations rose to 73 cents a share from 62 cents last year. Analysts expected earnings of 70 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial.

Sales rose to $1.47 billion from $1.36 billion last year. Analysts projected a top line of $1.46 billion.

Same-store sales at the Red Lobster chain jumped 7% in the quarter, while same-store sales at Olive Garden climbed 4.8%.

"We are pleased to deliver strong operating results in what continues to be a challenging environment," said Drew Madsen, president and chief operating officer of Darden, in a statement.

Darden reiterated that it expects combined U.S. same-restaurant sales growth in fiscal 2008 of between 2% and 4% for Red Lobster and Olive Garden. The company projects 10% to 12% for the fiscal year, excluding one-time items.

Darden owns 680 Red Lobster restaurants and 621 Olive Gardens. The company also owns 23 Bahama Breeze and 73 Smokey Bones restaurants.

In August, Darden agreed to buy Rare Hospitality (RARE), owner of the LongHorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille chains, for $1.4 billion.

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