Hurricane Sandy lumber and supply rebuilding helped results for home improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos.

But earnings and sales still fell in the fourth quarter compared to last year. Lowe’s says it's because its fiscal year ends on the Friday nearest the end of January; so fourth quarter and fiscal year 2011 included an extra week compared to 2012, triggering a 5 percent sales decline. 

Fourth quarter sales were $11.05 billion; net income dropped 12 percent to $288 million. For the year sales were $50.5 billion, a 0.6 percent increase.

Lowe’s, a major source of power tools, hardware and cabinets for home remodeling contractors through its Lowe’s for Pro’s channel, is playing catch-up with its bigger rival Home Depot.

Lowe’s results indicate improvement in its efforts to capture customers. It’s drop in profits resulted from investment in revamping its stores, and its earnings report isn’t seen as an indicator of the general trend to improvement in home remodeling and building. The quarterly period also ran one week shorter than the year prior.

For comparable stores, earnings rose 1.9 percent. Lowe's also announced a $5 billion stock buyback program.

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