Stocks posted broad gains on Tuesday, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) indexes finishing higher by more than 0.5%.

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Financial stocks were some of the biggest winners, and the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEMKT:XLF) beat the broader market with a 1.4% increase. Gold prices dropped a day after hitting a one-month high, which helped send the highly leveraged Direxion Daily Gold Miners Bull 3X ETF (NYSEMKT:NUGT) down 7.4%.

As for individual stocks, both Darden Restaurants (NYSE:DRI) and Carnival (NYSE:CCL) attracted heavy investor interest following the companies' latest quarterly earnings reports.

Ticker screen showing a mix of rising and falling stock prices.

Image source: Getty Images.

Darden Restaurants expands its footprint

Darden Restaurant shares rose 9.3% after the owner of several popular restaurant chains announced steady operating trends for its fiscal third quarter. Same-restaurant sales rose 0.9% to mark only a slight deceleration from the prior quarter's 1.7% boost. The Olive Garden brand grew 1.4% as traffic was flat amid a slight increase in menu prices. The LongHorn Steakhouse franchise, meanwhile, endured a more significant traffic decline but made up for the dip through higher prices. Adjusted profits spiked 9.1%.

A dinner plate at Olive Garden.

Image source: Darden Restaurants.

Executives were pleased with the results, especially given the weak overall industry trends. "We continued to gain market share as we outperformed industry same-restaurant sales by a considerable margin," CEO Gene Lee said. By the company's estimate, the dining industry suffered a 4.6% comps decline during the quarter, which put Olive Garden ahead of rivals by almost 6 percentage points.

Darden also announced the acquisition of casual dining brand Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen in a $780 million all-cash deal. The chain, which booked $617 million in revenue in the last year, is hoping to grow aggressively from its current base of just 165 locations across 28 states. Darden expects the deal to close in the next few months and begin boosting earnings in fiscal 2018.

Carnival raises expectations

A fast-expanding cruise industry helped Carnival post surprisingly strong operating results for its fiscal first quarter before the market opened on Tuesday. Net revenue yields were up 3.8%, after adjusting for currency swings, or good enough to beat management's December forecast that called for gains of 1.5% to 2.5%. On the other hand, higher fuel prices sent expenses up as overall cruise costs rose 3.2%. Still, the company enjoyed healthy earnings growth in the quarter.

Management credited solid demand for its core Caribbean itineraries for the gains. This volume uptick combined with higher average prices to supercharge profits. "We are off to a good start delivering another quarter of operational improvement on top of a very strong first quarter last year," CEO Arnold Donald told investors.

Looking ahead, the company sees vacation bookings running ahead of last year while inventory is down slightly. Thus, average prices are trending higher and sending profitability up as well.

That success gave executives confidence to raise their full-year sales growth outlook to 3% from 2.5% while boosting adjusted earnings per share guidance to between $3.50 and $3.70 while the previous forecast stood at $3.30 to $3.60. "We are reaching consumers through multiple touch points and laying the foundation for continued earnings improvement and sustained double digit returns on invested capital," Donald explained.

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