Ark Restaurants reported the passing of the company's President and Chief Financial Officer, Robert J. Stewart at the age of 61. Bob was elected as Chief Financial Officer in June 2002 and joined the Board of Directors in March 2012. In 2013 he was elected President. Prior to joining Ark, Bob was a Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President at Fortis Capital Holdings and held senior financial and audit positions in Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken in their New York, London and Stockholm offices.
Restaurant stocks are higher in afternoon trading after a member of the group, Darden (DRI), reported better than expected earnings for its fourth quarter. Darden, the operator of Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, reported fourth-quarter earnings per share of $1.39, beating analysts' expectation of $1.35. Darden delivered in-line Q4 revenue. Same-restaurant sales growth at its legacy brands jumped 2.4% from last year's quarter. The restaurant operator increased its quarterly dividend 19% to 75c per common share and announced a new $500M share repurchase program. "Our strong operating model generates substantial cash flows, which enables us to invest in our businesses and continue our history of returning significant cash to our shareholders," said CFO Rick Cardenas. "In fiscal 2018 we returned $550M to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases, and more than $1.5B over the past three years.," he added. FY19 VIEW: Darden sees same-restaurant sales growth of 1%- 2% in 2019 with total sales growth of 4%-5%. Darden also gave investors a positive glimpse into next year's profitability as it sees FY19 EPS in the range of $5.40 -$5.56. Analysts were projecting FY19 EPS of $5.41.PRICE ACTION: Shares of Darden Restaurants are up over 13% in afternoon trading to $105.33 per share. RESTAURANT PEERS FOLLOW HIGHER: Shares of restaurant stocks trading higher after Darden's results including ARK Restaurants (ARKR), BJ's Restaurants (BJRI), Bloomin' Brands (BLMN), Bojangles (BOJA), Dave & Buster's (PLAY) and Zoe's Kitchen (ZOES).