June 20, 2014 / 12:20 PM / in 4 years

UPDATE 2-Olive Garden owner Darden's profit forecast disappoints

(Adds analyst’s comment, forecast, background, details; updates share move)

By Shailaja Sharma

June 20 (Reuters) - Darden Restaurants Inc, facing shareholder resistance to the planned sale of its struggling Red Lobster seafood chain, forecast a full-year profit far below analysts’ expectations.

Starboard Value LP launched a fight to take over Darden’s board last month, a week after the company said it planned to sale Red Lobster to Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion.

The activist investors called the deal a “destructive transaction” that ignored shareholder rights, and said it would nominate a full 12-candidate slate for election at the company’s Sept. 30 annual meeting.

Starboard, backed by Barington Capital, has said it had identified other ways to save costs, boost revenue and revamp the company that would not require the sale.

Starboard owns 6.2 percent of Darden, while Barington represents shareholders holding more than 2 percent.

Darden said on Friday the sale was on track and it expects to receive $1.6 billion after tax and costs.

The company also said it plans reposition its flagship Olive Garden chain through remodels, menu additions, a new logo and advertising. (1.usa.gov/1ysgwtS)

Shares of the largest operator of full-service restaurants in the United States fell as much as 4.5 percent.

“Investors remain skeptical that the initiatives will drive a turn in same-store sales, given the past six quarters of same-store sales declines...,” Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Rachael Rothman said in a note.

The company said it expects Olive Garden same-restaurant sales to remain unchanged or rise by up to 1 percent for the year ending May 2015. Olive Garden will account for about 60 percent of Darden’s revenue after the sale of Red Lobster.

Darden, which also owns the Seasons 52 and Capital Grille chains, also forecast full-year adjusted earnings of $2.22-2.30 per share, compared with the average analyst estimate of $2.79, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Darden’s same-restaurant sales have been lagging those of fast-casual rivals such as the less-expensive Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Same-restaurant sales fell 3.5 percent at Olive Garden and about 6 percent at Red Lobster for the fourth quarter ended May 25.

Net income fell to $86.5 million, or 65 cents per share, from $133.2 million, or $1.01 per share, a year earlier. Analysts had expected 94 cents.

Costs related to Darden’s plan to separate Red Lobster and other charges hurt profit by 19 cents per share.

Total costs increased 7 percent to $1.62 billion.

Net sales rose 3.6 percent to $1.65 billion. Including discontinued operations, sales rose nearly 1 percent to $2.32 billion. Analysts expected sales of $2.33 billion.

Orlando-based Darden’s shares were down 3 percent at $48 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. (Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Joyjeet Das)

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