Retailer Lowe's Companies (LOW) reported that its earnings grew 17% for the third quarter, beating analysts' estimates by the proverbial penny.

The world's second-largest home improvement retailer reported net earnings of $404 million for the quarter ended Oct. 29, or 29 cents per share, up from $344 million or 23 cents per share in the third quarter of 2009. Excluding items, Lowe's earned 31 cents per share.

Sales for the quarter increased 1.9% to $11.6 billion from $11.4 billion in the same quarter a year ago. Analysts had expected revenue of $11.75 billion. Comparable store sales for the third quarter increased 0.2%.

"[W]e delivered solid results for the quarter despite the continued sluggishness of the economic recovery," said Chairman and CEO Robert Niblock. "Ongoing uncertainty in employment and housing continues to pressure our industry, but we are prepared to operate effectively in a slow-growth environment. We continue to solidify plans to enhance our market share gains as macro-economic factors slowly improve."

Looking ahead, Lowe's expects to open approximately 17 stores in the fourth quarter, reflecting square footage growth of approximately 2%, after opening 10 stores in the third. Lowe's further expects total sales to increase 2% to 4%; comparable sales to increase 0% to 2%; and earnings per share to be in the range of 16 cents to 19 cents. Analysts expect 18 cents per share.

For the fiscal year, Lowe's plans to open approximately 42 stores, reflecting total square footage growth of approximately 2%. It expects total sales to increase 3% to 4%; comparable sales to increase 1% to 2%; and earnings to come in a range of $1.37 to $1.40 per share. Analysts expected $1.41 per share.

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