Chipotle Continues to Sizzle

Earnings top expectations on the back of strong sales and margin improvements.
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Chipotle Mexican Grill's

(CMG) - Get Report

third-quarter topped expectations as sales soared and margins improved.

The trendy burrito chain posted third-quarter earnings of $11.8 million, or 36 cents a share, up from $5.1 million, or 19 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call forecast earnings of 27 cents a share.

Revenue climbed 28% to $211.6 million, while same-restaurant sales jumped 11.6%. Wall Street expected sales of $213 million.

The company's restaurant-level operating margins increased to 21.5% from 18.2% last year due to price increases, lower commodity costs and volume efficiencies.

Chipotle reiterated that it expects full-year same-restaurant sales growth in the low double-digit percentage, with the fourth-quarter increase being the lowest for the year because of tough comparisons.

Looking ahead, Chipotle said it is comfortable with its ability to increase earnings per share by an average annual rate of 25%. The company expects 2007 same-restaurant sales to increase in the low- to mid-single digits.

Chipotle was spun off from

McDonald's

(MCD) - Get Report

earlier this year, and its shares have jumped nearly 36% since doubling on the day of its January initial public offering. The stock recently was down $1.40, or 2.3%, to $58.50 in after-hours trading.