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Chipotle reveals slighter-than-expected improvement

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Chipotle’s same-store sales for the fourth quarter of 2016 declined year over year by 4.8%, the smallest slip in a year but a steeper decrease than the investment community had anticipated.

The comparable-sales decline was kept from slipping further because of easier comparisons, the fast-casual chain acknowledged in a securities filing. The damage from a series of food safety crises began to show in the financial results for November and December of 2015. For October 2016, comps fell 20.2%, Chipotle said in the preliminary statement of fourth-quarter results.

The filing noted that Chipotle’s store-level profit margin likely expanded into the 13% to 14% range. Margins during the first quarter had slipped to an average of 6.8%, from a year-earlier level of 27.5%.

Chipotle says its revenues for the quarter should total $1.04 billion, for a pretax profit falling between $30 million and $32 million. The Q4 2015 tallies were $997.5 million in revenues and a net income of $67.9 million. Comps for that year-ago quarter had fallen 14.6%.

Analysts had expected the decline in the chain’s Q4 2016 comps to fall below 4%.

The company is scheduled to release final results for the fourth quarter and full year on Feb. 2.

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