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Yum! Brands (YUM)  said U.S. store sales in the fourth quarter improved thanks to solid gains from its Taco Bell and KFC-branded stores.

Yum! said earnings for the three months ended in December came in at $1.04 a share, down 17.5% from the same period last year but well ahead of the Wall Street consensus of 96 cents a share. Profit on an adjusted basis in the quarter was 40 cents a share while net income fell 23% to $334 million.

Sales, Yum! said, slipped modestly from last year to $1.558 billion and narrowly missed the consensus forecast. However, worldwide same-store sales rose 3%, well ahead of the 2.48% Refinitiv forecast.

"In 2018, our diverse portfolio of iconic brands generated over $49 billion in system sales and ended the year with over 48,000 restaurants," said CEO Greg Creed. "Focus on our four growth drivers, increased collaboration and a new mindset are fueling strong results."

"During 2018, system sales grew 5% with same store sales growth of 2%, and net unit growth of 4%, excluding the impact of Telepizza," he added. "Combined across our brands and led by over 2,000 world-class franchisees, we opened a record 8 gross new restaurants per day across the globe in 2018. As we move into 2019, we will continue to pursue even more growth, leverage our unprecedented scale, and maximize value for all Yum! stakeholders."

Yum! shares were little changed, adding 2 cents to close at $94.61, leaving the stock's three-month gain at about 2%.