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Sonic Automotive reports gains in 4th quarter

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Sonic Automotive Inc. reported Wednesday that its fiscal fourth-quarter profit increased nearly 50 percent as the automotive retailer's sales improved.

The company, which is one of the country's largest auto retailers, earned $30.4 million, or 55 cents per share, for the quarter that ended Dec. 31. That compares with $20.5 million, or 35 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier. The company benefited from fewer shares in the most recent quarter. Earnings per share from continuing operations rose to 52 cents from 36 cents.

Total revenue climbed 10 percent to $2.19 billion from $1.98 billion.

Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting the company to earn 50 cents per share on revenue of $2.32 billion.

For the full year, Sonic earned $89.1 million, or $1.53 per share, on revenue of $8.37 billion.

"Looking into 2013, we believe we can continue to build on the momentum generated last year to offer our customers an exceptional and unique buying experience and build customer loyalty," B. Scott Smith, the company's president, said in a statement. "We expect the automotive retailing sector to continue to grow in 2013."

Smith said the company is now in a position to explore acquisition opportunities. Sonic operates more than 100 dealerships in 15 states, with luxury and import brands making up the majority.

The company forecast earnings per share from continuing operations between $1.93 and $2.03 for 2013. Analysts had forecast earnings of $1.99 per share for the year, on average.

Shares of Sonic, which is based in Charlotte, N.C., fell 35 cents to $23.47 in afternoon trading. Its shares have traded between $11.88 and $25.51 in the past 52 weeks.