02/24/2015 06:26 EST | Updated 04/26/2015 05:59 EDT

Home Depot 4Q results top Street on strong holiday showing, approves $18B stock buyback

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Shoppers liked what they saw at Home Depot during the holidays, helping the home improvement chain beat Wall Street expectations for its fourth-quarter results. The retailer also authorized the repurchase of $18 billion of its own shares, boosted its quarterly dividend by 26 per cent and released a better-than-expected outlook for the year.

Its shares rose 3 per cent in morning trading Tuesday after briefly hitting an all-time high.

The Atlanta-based company posted a fourth-quarter profit of $1.38 billion, or $1.05 per share, for the period ended Feb. 1. Excluding a gain related to the sale of a portion of HD Supply, its profit was $1 per share. That's well above the 89 cents per share that analysts had expected, according to a survey by FactSet.

Revenue was $19.16 billion, also better than Wall Street's projection of $18.68 billion.

Chairman and CEO Craig Menear said during a conference call that sales were helped by a strong customer response to its holiday decor and gift centre as well as its Black Friday deals. Online business also did well, particularly during the period known as "Cyber Week."

Sales at stores open at least a year rose 7.9 per cent in the quarter, 8.9 per cent if only U.S. stores are counted.

Strength was seen in categories such as tools, lumber, millwork, lighting, décor, building materials, kitchen, bath and hardware, according to Ted Decker, executive vice-president of merchandising.

Like other U.S. companies operating overseas, Home Depot warned that the strong dollar could weigh on its performance this year.

"If currency exchange rates remain where they are today, this would cause a negative impact to fiscal 2015 net sales growth of approximately $1 billion, as well as a negative impact on diluted earnings per share of approximately (6 cents per share)," the company said in a press release. "The low-end of the company's sales and diluted earnings-per-share growth guidance reflects this currency impact."

But Home Depot is riding an improving, if unsteady housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales of existing homes tumbled 4.9 per cent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million. That brings sales down to their lowest level since April 2014.

Homes did sell at a rate 3.2 per cent faster than January 2014 and Home Depot has been a beneficiary. The company this month announced that it would hire 80,000 workers to handle increased traffic over the spring and summer. It hired the same number of workers last year during the home building and improvement season.

The company's buyback program announced Tuesday replaces its remaining authorization of $1.5 billion. Home Depot has returned more than $53 billion of cash to shareholders through buybacks from 2002 through Feb. 1. The chain plans to complete $18 billion in buybacks by fiscal 2017's end.

Its dividend will now be 59 cents per share. The dividend will be paid on March 26 to shareholders of record on March 12.

For the year, Home Depot earned $4.71 per share on revenue of $83.18 billion. Online sales climbed more than 36 per cent.

The company expects 2015 earnings of between $5.11 and $5.17 per share. Revenue is expected to climb about 3.5 per cent to 4.7 per cent. Home Depot said that the low end of its earnings-per-share and sales forecast takes into account the strong dollar. Wall Street had been looking for full-year earnings of $4.50 per share.

Chief Financial Officer Carol Tome said during the call that the outlook does not take into account any expenses Home Depot may incur in the future for data breach-related claims. Last year the chain reported a massive data breach that affected 56 million debit and credit cards. Tome said that the company will update its guidance when it is able to estimate the expenses.

The Home Depot Inc. had 2,269 retail stores in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, 10 Canadian provinces and Mexico at the end of the fourth quarter.

Shares climbed $3.38, or 3 per cent, to $115.66 in morning trading. The stock struck a fresh all-time high of $117.92 earlier in the session.

Rival Lowe's Cos. is expected to report its quarterly financial results on Wednesday.