Wall Street is clearly hungry for more Darden Restaurants Inc. (DRI) .

Shares of the restaurants services company, which owns the likes of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, surged nearly 12% in morning action Thursday, June 21, following a strong earnings report for its fiscal fourth quarter and year-end.

The Numbers Are In

Adjusted fourth-quarter earnings totaled $1.39 a share, topping FactSet analysts' expectations of $1.35 and growing 17% from a year earlier. Revenue came in at $2.13 billion, in line with expectations and ahead of $1.93 billion in the same period a year earlier.

For the full fiscal year ended May 31, Darden tallied earnings of $4.81 a share, up nearly 20% from a year ago and slightly topping analysts' estimates. Revenue was $8.1 billion, up 12.7% from a year earlier and in line with expectations.

Strong Sales Growth

Same-store sales increased at every single division except for one, which is brand new to the Darden portfolio, to result in a blended increase of 2.2%. Among Darden's legacy brands, Olive Garden sales climbed 2.4%, The Capital Grille sales rose 2.6%, Eddie V's sales increased 3.6% and LongHorn jumped 2.4% for the quarter. Cheddar Scratch Kitchen was the only outlier with sales down 4.7% for the quarter. Darden acquired the chain about a year ago.

Operating profit margins rose at Olive Garden, which is Darden's largest chain with 856 locations. Snagging sales that grow faster than operating costs is typically difficult to do when seeing inflation and offering steep discounts, a practice for which Olive Garden has long been known.

Looking Ahead

For fiscal 2019, Darden said it expects same-store sales growth of 1% to 2%, paired with overall sales growth of between 4% and 5%. The company forecasts earnings per share to come in between $5.40 and $5.56 for the year. FactSet analysts currently predict full-year 2019 earnings of $5.41 for Darden.

Darden hiked its dividend 19% to 75 cents a share, to be paid out July 10. Darden's baord also gave the greenlight to a $500 million share buyback program.

FactSet analysts have an average long-term growth rate of 13.4% for Darden and an average price target of $101, which implies about 8% upside from Wednesday's closing price. Darden has gained 8.6% year to date, and shares have climbed 23.76% in the last three months.

Darden was previously a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS member club. The AAP team said Thursday morning that it will exit its position in Darden, selling 150 shares at a bid/ask of around $104.70/$105.00. The team will realize a gain of approximately 26% with its sale.

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