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ATLANTA – Reporting sharp 2007 declines and expecting the same in 2008, Home Depot is cutting its expansion, executives said at the company’s fourth quarter conference call. The company predicts a total sales decline of 4% to 5%, and negative comps in the mid to high single digits for the year, and plans only 55 new store openings, just 35 of them in the US, down from earlier expectations of more than a 100 total.

The company’s capital expenditures will be cut from $3.4 billion in 2007 to $2.3 billion this year. Plans for 2009 and 2010 will echo or could even be slightly down from 2008 expansion plans.

The company is engaging in a number of retrenching initiatives and “chief among the activities we are downsizing is new store growth,” said Frank Blake, chairman & CEO. Mexico and China continue to pose opportunities for growth, he said.

For the quarter, the company reported net earnings of $671 million, compared with $925 million for the same quarter in 2006. Sales for the fourth quarter totaled $17.7 billion, up 1.5% from the previous year. However, the 2007 quarter had one extra week. Excluding the 14th week, sales dropped 4.7%. Comparable store sales for the quarter declined 8.3%.

For fiscal year 2007, net earnings were $4.4 billion, compared to earnings of $5.8 billion in fiscal 2006. Sales for fiscal 2007 were $77.3 billion, down 2.1% from the prior year, and down 3.5% if the 53rd week is excluded. Comparable store sales declined 6.7%.

At year-end, the company operated 2,234 retail stores in the US (including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the territory of the US Virgin Islands and the territory of Guam), Canada, Mexico and China, as well as two THD Design Centers, five Yardbirds stores and 34 EXPO Design Center locations.

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