Chipotle Profits Boosted as Patron Visits Surge

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A sign for a Chipotle Mexican restaurant is seen in Arlington, Virginia February 4, 2011. Upscale burrito chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc faces a wider probe of its hiring by U.S. immigration officials, after the company came under scrutiny in ... Minnesota and had to fire workers. Chipotle has received U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "notices of inspection" for restaurants in Washington, D.C., and Virginia, co-Chief Executive Monty Moran told Reuters on Friday. . REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS FOOD SOCIETY EMPLOYMENT) - RTXXHC2 (Reuters)

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc (CMG) on Thursday reported a 15% increase in quarterly profit as sales at established restaurants rose more than expected due to an increase in visits from diners.

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The fast-growing burrito chain also said it expects 2013 same-restaurant sales momentum to be strong enough to insulate its profits from higher food costs. Its shares rose 2 percent in after-hours trade.

Chipotle's third-quarter net income rose to $83.4 million, or $2.66 per share, from $72.3 million, or $2.27 per share, a year earlier.

Analysts, on average, had expected $2.78 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Chipotle's sales at restaurants open at least 13 months, a closely watched gauge of industry performance, were up 6.2 percent for the latest quarter, more than the average analyst estimate of 4.7 percent compiled by Consensus Metrix.

Chipotle narrowed its full-year forecast for same-restaurant sales to mid-single-digit percentage growth. The Denver-based chain previously said it expected low- to mid-single-digit percentage same-restaurant sales growth for 2013.

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For 2014, it forecast low single-digit percentage growth, excluding menu price increases.

Analysts say Chipotle needs mid-single-digit percentage growth of same-restaurant sales to protect profits.

Shares of Chipotle gained $8.78 to $447.85 in after-market trading, after closing regular trading at $439.07.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)