FILE - This Friday, May 23, 2014, file photo, shows the sign at a Taco Bell in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch said Feb. 23, 2017, that theits Naked Chicken Chalupa, a sandwhich with a shell made out of fried chicken, will be pulled from menus as it was always intended to be a limited time offer. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Taco Bell sales jump with chicken 'innovation'

Taco Bell says a concoction made with a deep-fried chicken "taco shell" helped lure customers into its stores, and noted that it's planning more "Naked" chicken menu items.

The chain's sales jumped 8 percent at established locations in the first three months of the year, which it credited in part to $1 menu items and its limited-time Naked Chicken Chalupa. The results come as other restaurant chains have struggled to increase customer traffic in stores. McDonald's and Starbucks earlier reported sales increases in the U.S., for instance, but said they were the result of higher pricing.

Taco Bell this week also rolled out fried chicken pieces shaped like tortilla chips served with a nacho cheese dipping sauce.

Taco Bell's sales performance helped Yum report a profit for the first quarter that beat Wall Street expectations. But results were disappointing at the company's struggling domestic Pizza Hut business, which saw sales decline 7 percent at established locations.


CBL reports lower quarterly earnings

Chattanooga shopping center developer CBL & Associates Properties Inc. on Wednesday reported lower first quarter earnings compared to a year ago, citing a challenging retail environment.

The company reported that funds from operations allocable to common shareholders, as adjusted, for the first quarter was $88.4 million, or 52 cents per share, down by 4 cents per share from a year ago. Net income for the quarter was $22.9 million, or 13 cents per share, also down 4 cents per share from last year.

The company beat the analyst consensus estimate that it would earn 12 cents in the quarter, however.

CBL's shares on the New York Stock Exchange closed Wednesday at $9.26 per share, down 38 cents, or 3.94 percent.

The company that owns and operates Hamilton Place mall and Northgate Mall in Chattanooga said that its first quarter was impacted about 5 cents per share by dilution from asset sales.

Also, total portfolio same-center net operating income for the first quarter declined 1 percent, according to CBL in a release after the close of the markets.

Stephen Lebovitz, CBL's chief executive officer, said its malls are evolving into suburban town centers as the company adds more dining, entertainment, value and off-price, health and wellness, service and non-retail uses to adapt to the changing retail landscape.

"We faced a challenging retail environment in the first quarter, which impacted our net operating income rsults," he said. "However, leasing demand remains strong, and we are making major progress on our anchor redevelopment program," he said in a statement.

CBL said it entered into binding contracts for the sale of two malls and completed the sale of an outlet center and two office buildings year-to-date. The transactions are expected to generate aggregate equity proceeds of nearly $100 million for CBL.

Lebovitz said the company is improving its balance sheet through additional dispositions including the sale of The Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City and two office buildings as well as a binding contract for the sale of the two malls.

The company said its portfolio occupancy increased 92.1 percent. Same-center mall occupancy declined to 90.5 percent as of March 31 compared with 91.5 percent a year ago.


Miller Industries expects better sales in year ahead

Miller Industries, Inc. boosted its first quarter earnings by more than 13 percent and predicted continued gains in 2017 as towing equipment sales grow.

The Ooltewah-based tow truck maker said Wednesday it earned $3.8 million, or 34 cents per share, on sales of $148.9 million in the first three months of 2017. In the same period a year ago, Miller Industries earned $3.4 million, or 30 cents per share, on sales of 148.8 million

"We are encouraged by the healthy demand for our products across our domestic and international markets throughout the quarter," Miller Industries Co-CEO Jeffrey I. Badgley said. ""Our outlook for the remainder of 2017 remains positive."


Puckett EMS bought by Knoxville-based ambulance service

The Knoxville-based Priority Ambulance has agreed to acquire Puckett EMS, a private ambulance service based in Austell, Ga., that provides emergency and nonemergency ambulance service in Marion, Sequatchie, Walker and Dade counties in the Chattanooga region along with 10 other counties in Georgia.

Priority will retain the leadership, name and local ambulance contracts with Puckett EMS, which was founded in 2001.

"Puckett EMS is pleased to have a partner in Priority Ambulance that shares our mission and vision of patient care, efficiency and friendly customer service," Steve Puckett, president and co-owner of Puckett EMS, said in a statement Wednesday. "Joining with Priority's national ambulance family will allow our company the resources and support to grow our company. Puckett EMS' innovative processes and technology have poised us for phenomenal growth, and this partnership will allow us to take advantage of many opportunities."

Puckett EMS serves more than 52,000 patients each year with more than 340 employees and 66 emergency vehicles and is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services.

Priority Ambulance has about 2,000 employees an 400 ambulances to serve markets in Alabama, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Tennessee.

"Puckett EMS is a great company that will enhance creative thinking and industry leadership within Priority Ambulance," said Priority Ambulance CEO Bryan Gibson. "Priority has the resources to partner with Puckett in growth opportunities, and we are fortunate to add their innovative team to our regional leadership as we continue to expand across the country."

Puckett President and CEO Steve Puckett, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Shane Garrison and Vice President of Administration Terry Johnson will continue to lead Puckett EMS.

"Puckett EMS is always on the forefront of the industry in customer service – and our management and employees are what makes that possible," said Garrison. "Maintaining Puckett EMS employees and leadership will ensure our agency will continue to operate with the same level of excellence.

The purchase is expected to be completed in the next few weeks, company officials said today.


Facebook beats forecasts with $3 billion in profits

Facebook Inc. on Wednesday reported first-quarter profit of $3.06 billion, or $1.04 per per share. .Earnings, adjusted for stock option expense, came to $1.23 per share.

The results exceeded Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 15 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $1.10 per share.

The social media company posted revenue of $8.03 billion in the period, also beating Street forecasts.


New York Times adds 308,000 digital readers

The New York Times added a record number of digital subscribers last quarter, exciting investors who pushed the stock up nearly 12.6 percent Wednesday.

The Times added 308,000 digital subscribers in the first quarter — its best quarter since it began offering digital-only subscriptions in 2011. The additional subscribers helped boost the company to a net income of $13.2 million in the first quarter after reporting a loss of $8.3 million in the same period a year earlier.

Digital-only subscription revenues were up 40 percent over the first quarter of 2016, and advertising revenue for digital jumped 19 percent over the previous year's quarter.