Chipotle 4Q Profit Widens 47% on Strong Comp Sales

Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) surged to an all-time high after hours upon reporting late Thursday a stronger-than-expected 47% increase in its fourth-quarter profit, helped primarily by sales growth at stores open at least a year.

The restaurant chain has surged in recent quarters, with its share price jumping to roughly $250 from $40 in just over two years as the company continues to franchise and expand into new markets.

The Denver-based company posted net income of $46.4 million, or $1.47 a share, compared with $31.6 million, or 99 cents a share, in the same quarter last year, ahead of average analyst estimates polled by Thomson Reuters of $1.29 a share.

Revenue for the Mexican food chain restaurant was $482.5 million, up 24.5% from $387.5 million a year ago, trumping the Street’s view of $468.73 million.

Sales surged in comparable stores, which increased 12.6% during the three-months ended Dec. 31 on improved traffic, partially offset by higher food costs.

“Our accomplishments in 2010 were many--opening our first restaurant in London, hitting the 1,000 restaurant milestone, and serving naturally raised barbacoa in all of our restaurants--just to name a few,” said Chipotle Co-CEO Steve Ells.

Looking ahead, the company expects to open 135 to 145 new restaurants in 2011, with low single-digit comparable restaurant sales growth. In 2010, Chipotle opened 129 restaurants.