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Sonic Automotive 1Q Surges On Strong Vehicle Sales

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Sonic Automotive Inc.'s (SAH) first-quarter profit more than doubled on strong vehicle sales, especially for used cars. But the profit fell short of analysts' expectations. The improved results are the latest sign a recovery is underway in the auto-retailing business after a disastrous 2009, when vehicle sales plunged and both General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC were reorganized in bankruptcy court. Last week, larger peer AutoNation Inc. (AN), reported a strong rise in first-quarter profit. "The quarter got off to a slow start as our stores came out of a very strong December and as we continued investing in our associates, but profitability improved dramatically as we progressed through the quarter," said President B. Scott Smith. The third-largest U.S. auto-dealership chain behind AutoNation and Penske Automotive Group Inc. (PAG) posted a profit of $4.2 million, or 8 cents a share, up from $1.7 million, or 4 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding debt-refinancing activities and mark-to-market adjustments on interest rate swaps, Sonic's adjusted earnings from continuing operations rose to 14 cents from 10 cents. Revenue grew 13% to $1.56 billion. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a profit of 19 cents on revenue of $1.48 billion. Gross margin narrowed to 17.2% from 18%. Same-store revenue for the company's new vehicles improved 11%, and grew 29% for used cars. Shares of Sonic, which operates predominately in the Southeast, West and Southwest, closed at $13.09 Monday and were inactive premarket. -By John Kell, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2480;

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