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Autobytel.com sees strong 1Q sales, smaller loss

Autobytel.com said late Thursday it will beat Street estimates in its first quarter thanks to strong dealer sales and lower operating expenses.

The online car dealer said it now expects first-quarter sales of between $14.5 million to $15 million and a net loss of between 43 cents to 45 cents a share.

Most analysts were looking for sales of around $13 to $14 million and a loss of around 48 cents a share.

"This is the fifth consecutive quarter of financial performance that has exceeded street estimates since our IPO in March 1999," said CEO Mark Lorimer in a prepared release. "With the addition of CarSmart we have driven our dealer base to more than 5,000 strong, unique visitors to our sites topped 5 million, and we have seen a dramatic increase in our international business."

Lorimar said the company's marketing and sales expenses were less than previously anticipated.

"In our last conference call, we indicated that we would increase marketing and sales expenses by $5 to $7 million in each of the first two quarters to support the launch of AutobytelDirect," he said. "Our creative marketing approach allowed us to spend less in the first quarter than anticipated."

Autobytel (Nasdaq: ABTL) shares closed up 1/4 to 7 5/8 ahead of the announcement.