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Home Depot profit tops estimates on cost cuts

(Reuters) - Home Depot Inc (HD.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit on Tuesday as the world's largest home improvement chain kept a tight lid on costs to offset weak sales.

Net earnings were $1.01 billion, or 73 cents a share, compared with $1.02 billion, or 68 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts were looking for a profit of 71 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Home Depot was faster to cut costs than its smaller rival Lowe's Cos Inc (LOW.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) during the most recent U.S. recession.

It has particularly gained from its move to have more centralized distribution centers. It managed to cut total operating costs by 4 percent in the quarter.

Sales fell 3 percent to $17.70 billion, missing the analysts' estimate of $17.91 billion. The fourth quarter had one week less than the prior-year period.

Analysts had also raised concerns about inclement weather hurting traffic to its stores in the United States in December and January.

Sales at stores open at least a year rose 4.4 percent, including a 4.9 percent rise at its U.S. stores.

For the current fiscal year, the company expects earnings of $4.38 a share on sales growth of about 4.8 percent.

(Reporting By Dhanya Skariachan Editing by W Simon and Sophie Hares)