updated 2/27/2006 11:21:45 AM ET 2006-02-27T16:21:45

Lowe’s Cos., the nation’s second largest home-improvement retailer, reported Monday that its profit for the fourth quarter rose 37 percent, fueled by growth in special orders and commercial businesses sales. Its shares rose more than 4 percent.

The Mooresville, N.C.-based company said its quarterly net income rose to $695 million, or 87 cents a share, for the quarter ended Feb. 3 from $508 million, or 64 cents a share, in the same period last year.

Sales rose 26.4 percent to $10.8 billion in the quarter from $8.55 billion a year earlier. And sales at stores open more than a year — a key component for retailers — gained 7.8 percent.

Analysts, on average, expected Lowe’s to earn 80 cents a share on revenue of $10.44 billion, according to Thomson Financial.

“It’s obviously a reflection of the programs we have in place and the improvement in our in-store execution,” Robert Niblock, Lowe’s chairman, president and chief executive, said in an interview. “But don’t underestimate the impact of the unseasonably mild weather we had in the fourth quarter.”

The warmer weather allowed contractors to start on projects that normally might be delayed until the spring, he said.

Lowe’s forecast earnings per share of 92 cents to 94 cents for the first quarter and $4.03 to $4.13 for the year. That’s more than analyst estimates, which call for earnings of 88 cents per share for the first quarter and $3.95 for the year.

Lowe’s shares rose $2.84, or 4.3 percent, to $68.36 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, approaching its 52-week high of $69.70.

On a conference call with industry analysts, Lowe’s executives said the retailer expects to open 155 stores in 2006, adding about 12 percent of total square footage.

“Our outlook for 2006 is bright,” Niblock said.

Last week, The Home Depot Inc., the nation’s largest home improvement store chain, reported a 23 percent gain in its fourth-quarter profit and forecast continued growth in 2006.

The Atlanta-based company said it earned $1.29 billion, or 60 cents a share, for the three months ending Jan. 29, compared to a profit of $1.04 billion, or 47 cents a share, for the same period a year ago.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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