Store closings knock Home Depot earnings down

First-quarter net earnings at the nation’s largest home channel retailer fell 66 percent to $356 million from $1.05 billion in the same period last year.

The significant drop in net earnings was due to a one-time charge of $543 million, stemming from the retailer’s plan to close 15 stores and take 50 previously planned new stores off the docket.

Additionally, Home Depot saw a same store sales drop of 7.3 percent.

Net sales fell 3.4 percent to $17.9 billion from $18.56 billion in the same period last year.

"The housing and home improvement markets remained difficult in the first quarter; in fact, conditions worsened in many areas of the country," said Frank Blake, Home Depot chairman and CEO, in a statement. "We will continue to invest wisely in our core retail business to earn our customers' confidence and ensure the long-term health of our business."  During the company's earnings call with investors, Blake said the plan to slow store growth is expected to free up $1 billion over the next three years.

Blake also characterized the plan to close stores and curtail store growth as a disciplined approach to capital allocation, adding, “This discipline and reinvestment in our existing stores will benefit our shareholders, associates and customers.”

Craig Menear, executive vp merchandising, said Home Depot experienced negative sales growth across all departments, except lawn and garden. Most regions were down, but some strength was recorded in the Ohio Valley region, as well as in the company's Canada, Mexico and China operations, all of which experienced comp store sales growth.

The retailer is planning to concentrate on grabbing market share in several key product categories, namely ceramic tile, faucets and bath fixtures, Menear said.

Chief financial officer Carol Tome said the company at the moment was more comfortable with numbers on the lower-end of the retailer's full-year guidance for profit from continuing operations. The company currently expects that profit to drop by between 19 and 24 percent year-over-year. Tome also noted that the company took a broad look at its store base in determining which 15 stores in the country to close ??three of those stores were less than three years old, she said.

Check back at for coverage of the Home Depot annual meeting of stockholders, slated for May 20.

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