Quarterly sales improved 16.5% to $6.12 billion, and for the entire year, Lowe's sales shot up 19.8% to $26.5 billion. Comp sales were also positive, up 4.1% for the quarter and 5.6% for the year.
The retailer nailed its earnings as well. It netted $319.4 million in the fourth quarter, ahead of the previous quarter's $218.4 million by a fat 46.2%. Annual income grew almost as much, up 43.8% to $1.47 billion. Lowe's diluted earnings per share shook out at $0.40 for the quarter, and $1.85 for the year. Analysts were expecting $0.33 a share for Q4.
The company also strengthened in other areas. Its long-term debt remained stable at $3.7 billion. Gross margins improved to 30.3% from 2001's 28.8%, and net margins grew to 5.56% from 4.63%.
As for free cash flow, Lowe's created about $335 million for the year, an impressive change from both fiscal 2001 and 2000, when it was free cash flow negative. It generated $2.7 billion in cash from operations.
Looking ahead, Lowe's hopes to keep the party going. It expects to open 130 new stores this year, spending $2.9 billion in capital expenditures. It will finance the vast majority of that expansion from operating cash flow, which says a great deal about the strength it anticipates in fiscal 2003.