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Lowe's Comfortable With Fourth-Quarter Views

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posted third-quarter earnings in line with analysts' expectations, but same-store sales for the quarter were flat, in part because of significant deflation in the lumber and building materials divisions.

The company, which is based in Wilkesboro, N.C., said it is comfortable with First Call's fourth-quarter earnings estimate of 48 cents a share, up from 39 cents a share last year. The company expects sales to increase 24% to 26%. Lowe's expects same-store sales to increase 1% to 3%, but still be hurt by continued deflation in lumber and building materials and remerchandising efforts.

The home improvement retailer earned $202.3 million, or 53 cents a share, in the third quarter, compared with $168.7 million, or 44 cents a share, in the same period last year. A

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poll of 22 analysts produced a consensus estimate of 53 cents a share for the quarter.

Sales for the quarter rose 15% to $4.50 billion from $3.91 billion in the third quarter a year ago.

For 2001 through 2003, total sales are expected to grow about 20% a year, while earnings per share are expected to increase 22% to 23% a year. Lowe's, which plans to open 120 to 125 new stores in 2001, also said it sees same-store sales growing 4% to 6% in this period.

Lowe's expects to operate about 40 smaller format stores at the end of 2000 and plans to reduce that number to about 20 by the end of 2001.