Fast-food giant Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) took advantage of a lower tax rate to post second-quarter earnings per share of $0.62 after the bell yesterday. The results, which were $0.04 better than last year's bottom line and well ahead of the modest decline that analysts were expecting, initially pushed the company's shares higher. Now that investors have had more time to digest the numbers, though, it appears they weren't quite as palatable as originally thought. The stock retreated this morning as a result.

It's no surprise that some people may be a little confused, when certain media companies are reporting that Yum! has lifted its 2005 outlook, while others are claiming that the company is guiding lower. Which is correct? Well, both, actually.

After posting first-quarter earnings of $0.53 back in April, Yum! issued guidance calling for full-year earnings of $2.60. Given that $0.56 of that total was projected to come in the second quarter, management was obviously anticipating second-half earnings of $1.51 ($2.60 minus $0.53 minus $0.56). Today, with the first two quarters' results in the books, the company has delivered first-half earnings of $1.15 and is proudly trumpeting that its 2005 EPS forecast is being lifted by $0.02 to $2.62.

On the surface, the news sounds just fine -- who wouldn't welcome an upward revision? -- except that some simple grade-school arithmetic reveals that underneath the positive message lies some negative assumptions. With $1.15 already in the bank, management must now be expecting second-half earnings of $1.47 to arrive at the new $2.62 full-year forecast. In essence, the company is expecting earnings over the next two quarters to fall $0.04 short of earlier predictions but, thanks to yesterday's $0.06 Q2 windfall, is still able to proclaim a $0.02 improvement.

In case anyone is curious, the new third- and fourth-quarter predictions of $0.70 and $0.77 trail analyst estimates by $0.01 and $0.05, respectively. I won't call the numbers game disingenuous, but it is misleading, and it illustrates the importance of not only reading beyond the headlines but also taking guidance with a grain of salt.

As for the rest of Yum!'s second-quarter highlights, total revenues rose 4% to $2.15 billion as KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut all reported positive same-store sales for the period. On the heels of a birthday celebration and a return to its cultural roots, the once-laggard Kentucky Fried Chicken chain has now posted eight consecutive months of rising comps and led the way during the quarter with a solid 7% gain. Meanwhile, amid stiff competition from the likes of Papa John's (NASDAQ:PZZA) and Dominos Pizza (NYSE:DPZ), it has been Pizza Hut's turn to play catch-up.

Also during the quarter, Yum! added 68 new restaurants in China -- a fast-growing region where it hopes that the remnants of an embarrassing PR blunder will soon be gone -- and remains on track to open 375 outlets there this year. The company also continues to make progress on its multi-brand store initiative, given that 15% of the firm's total domestic stores are now tempting fast-food patrons with various combinations of its different brands -- like, say, Long John Silver's and KFC -- under one roof.

All things considered, though, Yum! has much to offer growth-hungry investors. As yesterday's events demonstrate, it doesn't always pay to believe everything you read on the menu.

There's always room for dessert. Try these:

Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter really misses Taco Bell's "Wild Sauce." He owns none of the companies mentioned.