The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of economic disruptions, and workers have felt the brunt of the impact. Tens of millions of people lost their jobs during the shutdowns in the early months of the pandemic. Even now, unemployment levels remain elevated, and an unexpected rise in first-time unemployment insurance claims to 870,000 showed that people are still going through hard times. On Thursday just after 11:30 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.34%) was up 8 points to 26,771. The S&P 500 (^GSPC 0.12%) gained 9 points to 3,246, and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC -0.07%) managed to pick up 88 points to 10,720.

For stock investors, the tough economic environment has shown up in different ways with different companies. As third-quarter earnings season approaches, a couple of companies with nonstandard fiscal years gave us a sneak peek at what might be coming down the road. For CarMax (KMX -0.22%), the news was far from ideal. Yet for Darden Restaurants (DRI 1.70%), some hints of a possible recovery made investors more optimistic.

Wall Street sign in front of New York Stock Exchange.

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A fender-bender for CarMax earnings

Shares of CarMax were down 13% Thursday morning. Even though the car retailer reported record revenue and net income in its fiscal second quarter, investors weren't satisfied with the way CarMax is responding to competitive threats.

The numbers at CarMax were solid. Revenue climbed 3% from year-ago levels, with a nearly 4% increase in total used vehicles sold. Comparable-store unit sales were higher by a more modest 1.2% year over year. In its wholesale division, CarMax sold 5% more vehicles and saw a nice gross profit boost of $158 per vehicle to $1,086. Earnings were higher by 28% on a per-share basis.

CarMax attributed its strength to its rollout of its omni-channel sales efforts. Those moves were important, especially as online rival Carvana has seen so much success with its own e-commerce emphasis.

However, investors were probably disappointed to see CarMax continue to suspend its stock buybacks. Moreover, with no new store openings anticipated until fiscal 2022, it could be a while before CarMax gets its fundamental business back into full growth mode again.

Darden serves up delicious results

Meanwhile, Darden Restaurants saw its stock rise 6%. The restaurant chain is still seeing the negative influence of the pandemic on its results, but it nevertheless took key steps to return to more normal conditions as far as shareholders are concerned.

Darden's total sales in its fiscal first quarter plunged 28%, on a 29% drop in same-restaurant revenue. Olive Garden saw a 28% drop in comps, while LongHorn Steakhouse fell 18%. Comps for fine dining and other businesses were off 39%. Adjusted earnings were down almost 60% year over year.

Yet investors were happy to see Darden reinstate its dividend. The company will pay a $0.30-per-share quarterly payment beginning in early November. That gives the stock a dividend yield of just 1.3%, but that's enough to make investors excited about its future.

Darden's outlook sees a roughly 18% drop in revenue compared to year-ago levels in the fiscal second quarter. It's evident that despite the big hit restaurant stocks have taken, Darden is doing its best to get through tough times and hopes to emerge on the other side stronger.