Lowe's ( LOW) reported a 55% fourth-quarter profit increase, beating analyst expectations, and predicted that 2002 earnings would exceed estimates. The home improvement retailer said it earned $218.4 million, or 28 cents a share, up from $140.8 million, or 18 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Wall Street had been expecting 25 cents a share For the first quarter, the company is expecting per-share earnings of 35 cents to 36 cents, above Thomson Financial/First Call analyst estimates of 34 cents. For the full fiscal year, Lowe's expects to earn $1.55 to $1.58 per share, also beating the consensus analyst estimate of $1.53. During the fourth quarter, Lowe's opened 16 new stores, bringing its new store total for the year up to 115. The company now has 744 stores in 42 states. Shares of Lowe's were recently up 3% to $47.45 in Instinet premarket trading after closing at $46.05 Friday.