Restaurant operator Ruby Tuesday ( RI) said earnings rose 10% in the third quarter, led by higher sales.

The company earned $30.2 million, or 50 cents a share, in the quarter ended Feb. 28, compared with $27.5 million, or 42 cents a share, a year ago. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were expecting earnings of 46 cents a share.

Third-quarter revenue rose 17% from a year ago to $338.6 million, surpassing Wall Street's forecast of $334.2 million. Same-restaurant sales at company-owned restaurants rose 4.7% in the quarter, while sales at domestic franchise restaurants rose 5.4%.

The company raised its fourth-quarter outlook, predicting earnings per share growth of 25% to 30%. It had previously forecast earnings growth of 20% to 22.5%. Ruby Tuesday said the fourth-quarter guidance is based on same-restaurant sales growth of 3.5% to 4.5%.

For the first four weeks of the fourth quarter, Ruby Tuesday said same-restaurant sales at company-owned restaurants rose 6% to 6.5%, and sales at domestic franchise restaurants climbed 9.5% to 10%.

Looking ahead to fiscal 2007, the company expects EPS growth at the lower end of its long-term goal of 12.5% to 15%, excluding 10 cents to 12 cents of options expense. The company plans to open about 40 franchises in the year.

"We believe our transition to a media-based marketing strategy in conjunction with the investments we have made in other areas of our business has certainly better positioned us for continued same-restaurant sales and earnings growth," the casual-dining chain said.

The stock recently changed hands in late trading at $32.55, up $2.03, or 6.6%.
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