Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. said Tuesday that it expects same-store sales to fall 4.8 percent in the fourth quarter, its best result in five quarters, as the Denver-based fast-casual operator starts to move past a 2015 food-safety crisis.
Chipotle released preliminary fourth-quarter results ahead of its presentation Tuesday at the ICR Conference in Orlando, Fla. The company will release full fourth-quarter and fiscal 2016 results on Feb. 2.
Same-store sales have dramatically improved during the quarter so far, as Chipotle began to lap months when results plunged after it revealed an E. coli outbreak in October 2015.
Same-store sales fell 20.2 percent this October, and declined 1.4 percent in November. Same-store sales rebounded in December, increasing 14.7 percent.
While December was strong, Chipotle still has a long way to go before it can recover lost sales: On a two-year stacked basis, same-store sales were still down 15 percent. Same-store sales fell 30 percent in December 2015.
Still, investors saw some light at the end of the tunnel, and Chipotle’s stock rose more than 4 percent in early trading Tuesday.
Chipotle said it expects its operating margin to be 13 percent to 14 percent in the fourth quarter. The operator said it saw higher expenses in the quarter than it originally forecasted. It also said it spent more on television advertising in the quarter, and that higher avocado costs led to higher-than-expected food costs.
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