By Lisa Baertlein
(Reuters) - KFC parent Yum Brands Inc
Shares in the fast-food chain, whose third-quarter profit matched Wall Street's expectations, fell 1.9 percent in extended trading.
China -- the world's fastest growing major economy -- is Yum's biggest earnings driver, accounting for just over 40 percent of overall profits. But analysts say the slowdown might have accelerated this quarter.
Closely watched sales at Yum's established restaurants in China rose 19 percent in the third quarter, but those results only captured Yum's China operations through the end of August.
"The talk in Asia is that China is starting to slow down," said Michael Yoshikami founder and chief executive of YCMNET Advisors, who tracks Yum as part of his investment in rival McDonald's Corp.
Yum, which is widely regarded as one of the biggest China plays for investors in the U.S. stock market, will hold a conference call with analysts on Wednesday morning.
"You own this stock for their exposure to China," said Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo.
"We're going to want to know what's gone on in China for the last five weeks," said Russo, who added that some economic data out of the country backs the thesis that growth is cooling.
Yum said on Tuesday it raised menu prices after the quarter ended to help offset higher costs.
Yum, based in Louisville, Kentucky, has almost 4,200 restaurants, mostly KFC outlets, in China. It is the largest Western restaurant brand in China, with far more restaurants than competitors such as McDonald's and Starbucks Corp
Yum's other fast-food brands are Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
Sales at established restaurants in Yum Restaurants International (YRI) were up 3 percent during the third quarter. That division includes Yum's other non-U.S. markets such as France, India and Russia.
While Yum's business is robust in international markets, it continues to struggle at home.
Overall sales at U.S. restaurants open at least one year fell 3 percent. That result included declines of 2 percent at Taco Bell, 3 percent at Pizza Hut and 3 percent at KFC.
Operating profit was up in China and YRI, but down in the United States.
Yum's net income in the third quarter ended September 3 rose to $383 million, or 80 cents per share, from $357 million, or 74 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding special items, Yum's profit was 83 cents per share, matching analysts' average estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose to $3.27 billion from $2.86 billion a year earlier.
Shares in Yum fell to $48.51 after closing at $49.44 on the New York Stock Exchange,
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Richard Chang and Carol Bishopric)