Yum profits soar over first quarter

LOUISVILLE — Yum Brands Inc., owner of the Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC chains, said Wednesday its first-quarter net income rose 73 percent due to a successful combo — continuing strong overseas sales packaged with a rebounding U.S. performance led by its once-struggling Taco Bell business.

Upbeat about its prospects in the U.S. and abroad, the company raised its earnings-per-share growth forecast for the full year to at least 12 percent, or at least $3.22 per share. It previously said it expected growth of at least 10 percent in 2012.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet forecast annual income of $3.28 per share, on average.

Sales from existing restaurants rose in the first quarter across its worldwide businesses, including a 5 percent overall gain in the U.S as Taco Bell showed signs of emerging from its slump last year. All three chains showed sales gains in the U.S.

Yum also kept up its fast-paced expansion overseas in the first three months. It added 168 new restaurants in China, a record number of openings in the first quarter there, said Jonathan Blum, a Yum senior vice president. The company opened 123 more stores in 41 countries in its international division, which excludes China and India. The company expects to open 100 new restaurants this year in India.

The Louisville-based company recently has relied on a combination of strong sales at its existing overseas restaurants and the rapid pace of new store openings to weather last year's sluggishness in the U.S.

But the company followed up a robust fourth-quarter U.S. performance last year with even stronger sales in the first three months of this year.

Overall, Yum reported net income of $458 million, or 96 cents per share, in the first quarter, up from $264 million, or 54 cents per share, last year, when it took a charge of 9 cents per share. Excluding one-time items in the latest quarter, income was 76 cents per share. The restaurant operator's revenue increased 13 percent to $2.74 billion in the period.

Operating profit in the U.S. jumped by 27 percent in the first quarter. Taco Bell led the way with a 6 percent increase in sales from its established U.S. stores. The company has been encouraged by early sales of its new tacos featuring shells made out of Nacho Cheese Doritos.