updated 1/16/2004 11:24:23 AM ET 2004-01-16T16:24:23

The Home Depot said Friday it will spend $3.7 billion in 2004 to modernize its stores, upgrade technology and open 175 new stores _ down from the 200 openings in each of the past three years. It also raised its estimate of earnings growth for fiscal 2003.

Atlanta-based Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer, said it plans to branch out and improve efforts such as at-home services, tool rental centers and the company Web site, said chief executive Bob Nardelli as the company revealed its plans and earnings expectations for the next year.

"The Home Depot is creating dynamic stores through our offering of innovative and distinctive products, store modernization efforts and investments in technology and store associates," Nardelli said.

Home Depot said its 2003 earnings per share would rise 17 percent to 19 percent, compared to a previous estimate of 15 percent to 17 percent growth. The 2003 fiscal year ends Feb. 1.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call expect Home Depot to post a profit of $1.82 a share for 2003, which would be an 17 percent increase over 2002's profit of $1.56.

In 2004, Home Depot expects full-year earnings per share to grow between 7 percent and 11 percent. The company said it expects to deliver sales growth of between 9 percent and 12 percent in 2004.

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