Lowe’s Companies (LOW), the world’s second largest home improvement retailer, reported profits of $205m, or $0.14 per share, for its fiscal fourth quarter ending January 29. The Q409 results are up 26.5% from one year ago, when Q408 net earnings were $162m, or $0.11 per share. For the fiscal year ending January 29, 2010, net earnings were $1.78bn, or $1.21 per share, down 18.8% from one year ago, when North Carolina-based Lowe’s earned $2.195bn. In Q309, Lowe's reported net earnings of $344m. Sales increased 1.8% to $10.2bn, up from $10bn in Q408. For the entire fiscal year, sales declined 2.1% to $47.2bn. Comparable store sales declined 1.6% in Q409 and 6.7% for fiscal 2009. Lowe’s opened 11 new stores during the quarter, bringing the company’s total to 1,710 stores in the US and Canada. “Our fourth quarter results, including sales and earnings that exceeded our guidance, suggest the worst of the economic cycle is likely behind us,” said Lowe's chairman and CEO Robert Niblock. “While the psychological impact of falling home prices and an uncertain employment picture continue to weigh on consumers, improving comparable store sales trends, including improvement in many bigger-ticket, project categories, provides an encouraging sign that consumers are gaining the confidence to take on more discretionary projects.” During the quarter, Lowe’s board of directors initiated a repurchase of $500m, or 21.9m shares, of the company's common stock, a power that expired at the end of the 2009 fiscal year. Over the next three years, Lowe’s said it intends to purchase up to $5bn in common stock, subject to market conditions and will be made from time to time either in the open market or through private transactions. In its fiscal year Q110, Lowe’s plans to open 11 stores and said sales should increase 1% to 3%, but said comparable store sales will range from a 2% decline to flat. For this fiscal year, Lowe’s projects earnings per share of $1.30 to $1.42. Rival Home Depot (HD) posted a $342m profit in its fiscal year fourth quarter that ended January 31. Write to Austin Kilgore. The author held no relevant investments.