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Chipotle fattens profit by opening new locations

NEW YORK (AP) -- Chipotle said Thursday that its first-quarter profit rose 22 percent as new restaurant openings fueled sales.

The results easily topped Wall Street expectations. The burrito-maker's shares gained $23.40, or 7 percent, to $353.50 in aftermarket trading.

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.

Sales at restaurants open at least a year rose 1 percent, 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.

Profit margins got thinner, however, in part because of higher costs for dairy, chicken, salsa and other produce. The increases were offset by lower avocado prices, the company said.

Looking to the year ahead, it 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.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., based in Denver, opened 48 new locations during the period, bringing its total to 1,458.