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Chipotle Stays Hot

Chipotle Mexican Grill's (CMG) fourth-quarter profit more than doubled amid improved operating margins and continued sales strength.

The burrito chain said Thursday that its earnings rose to $10.8 million, or 33 cents a share, from $4.3 million, or 16 cents a share, a year earlier. The results topped Thomson First Call's average analyst estimate of 28 cents a share.

Revenue jumped 27% to $219.7 million from $173.3 million, beating Wall Street's target of $216.4 million. Same-store sales, or sales at restaurants open at least a year, increased 10.1%.

Restaurant-level operating margins increased 170 basis points to 20.3%, which the company attributed to higher average restaurant sales and menu increases.

The stronger-than-expected results cap off Chipotle's first year as a public company. The chain was spun off last year from McDonald's (MCD) in one of the hottest initial public offerings of 2006. The shares more than doubled to $44 on their first day of trading in January 2006 and since then are up about 40%.

The shares recently were jumping $3.14, or 5.1%, to $64.52 in after-hours trading, after rising 2.8% in the regular session.

Looking to 2007, Chipotle said it expects to open 95 to 105 new restaurants, and it sees same-restaurant increases in the mid- to low-single digits. The company currently has about 570 restaurants.

The company also noted that it doesn't yet know the effects that the recent California freeze will have on its results, but it still "remains focused" on delivering long-term earnings-per-share growth of 25%.

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