Pizza Hut adding 300-plus restaurants in Central Europe; Yum stock hits 52-week high; and White House in big new Obamacare push as Humana and Aetna flee exchanges

A news summary focused on 10 big employers; updated 6:11 p.m.

Pizza Hut restaurant building
Pizza Hut has more than 14,000 locations worldwide.

PIZZA HUT said it signed a master franchise agreement with AmRest Holdings that gives the Polish company the right to own, develop and sub-franchise more than 300 restaurants in Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, and Slovenia over the next five years; AmRest already operates 80 Huts (press release).

Wall Street rallied around the news: YUM shares closed this afternoon at $90.76, after trading earlier at a 52-week high of $90.88.

Greg CreedThe expansion comes as Yum CEO Greg Creed is on the offensive against rival Domino’s on the domestic front, especially in technology such as ordering apps that attracts younger consumers. Pizza Hut, headquartered in Plano outside Dallas, is the world’s biggest pizza chain, more than 14,00 restaurants in more than 100 countries. No. 2 Domino’s has more than 12,500 locations in over 80 markets around the world.

AmRest was launched in 1993 with its first Pizza Hut in Poland’s Wrocław and says it’s now the biggest independent chain restaurant operator in Central and Eastern Europe. It operates more than 1,000 eateries in 13 countries through a portfolio of brands that also includes KFC, Burger King, Starbucks, La Tagliatella, Blue Frog and Kabb.

HUMANA: Facing withdrawals from insurance exchanges by Humana, Aetna and others amid surging premiums, the Obama Administration is preparing a major push to enroll new participants in public online marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. The administration is considering an ad campaign with testimonials from newly insured consumers, as well as direct appeals to young people hit by tax penalties for failing to enroll (New York Times).

Humana and Aetna logos 250On Monday, Aetna blamed anticipated losses for the Hartford insurer’s decision to exit nearly 70% of the exchange markets it’s been serving; that pullout will come next year. The followed a similar announcement earlier this month from Humana, which said it plans to largely exit the marketplaces, reducing coverage to no more than 156 counties in 2017 vs. 1,351 today. Humana and Aetna are fighting the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice, which has filed suit to block their $37 billion merger on anti-trust grounds; a federal judge has set a Dec. 5 trial date. More about Humana’s history.

Chipolte logoTACO BELL‘s beleaguered rival Chipotle released a letter today admitting to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it doesn’t know if its burrito giveaways are driving sales. The Denver-based fast Mexican chain had hoped to lure customers back after a debilitating food-safety crisis last year. But so far it has little to show for the burrito free-for-all, with sales dropping 24% in the latest quarter from the year ago (Bloomberg).

In other news, the Speed Museum has laid off seven full-time employees and changed two other positions to part-time, citing a review of its budget for 2017. The museum, which reopened last spring after a $60 million, three-year renovation, now has 78 full-time and 39 part-time employees. Those figures show the cuts amounted to 8% of the full-time staff, a not-insignificant number (Insider Louisville).

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