Jack in the Box Inc. reported earnings of $22.7 million Monday, or 49 cents per share, reflecting a sharp increase from the same fourth-quarter period one year ago. In last year's fiscal fourth quarter, Jack in the Box posted earnings of $4 million, or 7 cents per share.

This also blew analysts' expectations out of the water. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected earnings of 40 cents per share.

A major reason for this was a 5.8 percent increase in same-store sales. This compared to a 4 percent loss over the same period last year, as 40 Jack in the Box stores were closed.

Jack in the Box company same-store sales increased 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter, ahead of our expectations, as sales and traffic accelerated in the last two months of the quarter, CEO and president Linda Lang said in a statement.

Jack in the Box-owned Qdoba's same-store sales, Lang said, also improved 3.7 percent system-wide.

The company also dramatically reduced operating expenses in the fourth quarter vs. the same period a year ago, from about $558 million to $463.1 million. Food and packaging costs declined by more than $25 million. Payroll and employee benefits also took a dive from $117 million to about $85 million, due to what the company said was reflective of lower insurance costs and the benefit of refranchising.

Selling, general and administrative expenses declined by $7.3 million, accounting for only 10.6 percent of revenues when compared to 10.8 percent last year.

But company revenue also fell -- from $563.1 million to $504.2 million. This was completely due to company restaurant sales, which declined by nearly $100 million while distribution sales and franchise revenues both increased.

Jack in the Box also outlined its expectations for the first quarter of 2012. The company anticipates same-store sales increasing again, approximately 4 to 5 percent compared to a 1.5-percent increase in last year's fiscal first quarter. It also expects Qdoba same-store sales to increase only 2 to 3 percent, compared to a 6.4-percent increase in the year-ago first quarter.