Chipotle fattens profit with new locations

NEW YORK (AP) -- Chipotle's results easily topped Wall Street expectations on Thursday as the burrito-maker said new restaurant openings fueled sales.

The company's shares advanced $23.40, or 7 percent, to $353.50 in aftermarket trading.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. was once a market darling as customers flocked to its fast-casual format for tacos, bowls and burritos. More recently, however, it has faced intensifying competition and extending its streak of outsized results has proven more difficult.

Sales at restaurants open at least a year rose 1 percent during the quarter, the company said, primarily because of an increase in customer traffic. The metric is a key indicator because it strips out the impact of newly opened and closed locations.

Looking to the year ahead, Chipotle said it expects flat to low-single-digit sales growth at established locations. That's not counting any potential hikes it makes to menu prices. The company declined to say when it might raise prices but said it likely wouldn't be around the middle of the year, as it had previously suggested.

Costs for ingredients pressured profit margins in the latest period, with prices climbing for dairy, chicken, salsa and other produce.

Still, new restaurant openings boosted results. During the quarter, the company opened 48 new locations, bringing its total to nearly 1,500.

In all, the company said it expects to open between 165 and 180 locations this year, with expectations on the high end of that range. The company said in a conference call with analysts that it planned to focus more on mall locations, which cost less to open.

For the period ended March 31, the company said it earned $76.6 million, or $2.45 per share. That's up from $62.7 million, or $1.97 per share, a year ago.

Total revenue rose 13 percent to $726.8 million, primarily as the result of new locations.

Analysts on average were looking for earnings of $2.13 per share on revenue of $725.4 million, according to FactSet.