As fourth-quarter earnings season begins this week with reports from Yum! Brands Inc. and others, more macroeconomic and industry-specific data reveal just how difficult the end of 2008 became for restaurant operators. Last week the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that the gross domestic product, or GDP, contracted 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter, from a 0.5-percent decrease in the third quarter. The latest contraction was the worst recorded since the first quarter of 1982. ...

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