DULUTH, Ga. (AP) ¿ Shares of Asbury Automotive Group Inc. soared Wednesday, after the automotive retailer reported a steep drop in first-quarter profit, but still managed to beat Wall Street predictions. In morning trading, Asbury shares rose $1.15, or 15 percent, to $9.06 after peaking at $9.09 earlier in the day. Over the past 52 weeks, the company's shares have traded between $1.60 and $18. Asbury earned $300,000, or 1 cent per share, compared with $10.1 million, or 31 cents per share, in the same quarter last year. Earnings from continuing operations fell to $2.2 million, or 7 cents per share, from $10.4 million, or 32 cents per share, in the year-ago period. Total revenue fell 30 percent to $838.3 million from $1.20 billion, as the total number of new vehicles sold dropped 38 percent to 14,217. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a loss of 1 cent per share on $918.5 million in revenue. Company officials credited the better-than-expected results to cost-cutting efforts including its corporate relocation, elimination of its regional management structure, along with productivity and profitability improvements at its dealerships. Asbury said the moves allowed it to reduce same-store operating expenses by a combined $34 million compared with the first quarter of 2008.
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