Jack in the Box Inc. (JBX) on Wednesday said profit for its latest quarter soared 32 percent as sales rose sharply, operating margins improved and the tax rate sank.

Separately, the fast-food chain said its chief financial officer, John F. Hoffner, will retire Jan. 23. The company named Jerry P. Rebel, who currently is controller, as the new financial chief.

Hoffner will remain as a financial adviser to the company through the end of 2005. He said he was leaving to pursue university-level teaching and philanthropic activities.

Rebel, who will take over as CFO effective Jan. 24, joined Jack in the Box last year. Previously, he was controller for food-distributor Fleming Cos (search).

San Diego-based Jack in the Box said net income for the fourth quarter ended Oct. 3 rose to $21.7 million, or 58 cents a share, from $16.4 million, or 45 cents a share, a year ago.

The latest quarter included an extra calendar week compared with a year ago, which added 3 cents a share to earnings. That exceeded the anticipated gain of 1 cent a share from the extra week.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had expected fourth-quarter earnings of 49 cents a share.

Sales for the latest quarter rose 20 percent to $593.9 million from $493 million. Sales at stores open at least a year rose 4.1 percent in the period.

Jack in the Box repeated its estimates for fiscal first-quarter earnings of 69 cents a share.

Analysts are calling for first-quarter earnings of 68 cents a share. A year ago, the restaurant chain had earnings of 58 cents a share.

The company also backed its fiscal 2005 earnings forecast of $2.43 a share, which is equal to the average of Wall Street forecasts.

Jack in the Box earned $2.12 in fiscal 2004.

The company also said it completed its $35 million share repurchase program. Jack in the Box said it bought 1.08 million shares at an average price of $32.46.

For the full year, Jack in the Box had net income of $78.5 million, compared with $73.6 million, a year ago.

Full-year revenue rose to $2.32 billion from $2.06 billion.

Jack in the Box shares traded Wednesday at $34.80, up 80 cents, or 2.4 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange (search).