Lowe's CEO: Calif, Fla. not as bad as before

NEW YORK (Reuters) - While same-store sales are still down significantly in hard-hit California and Florida, the results are “less negative” now, Lowe’s Cos Inc Chief Executive Robert Niblock said on Monday.

The slight improvement in sales was an indication to the No. 2 U.S. home improvement retailer that things were moving in the “right direction,” Niblock told Reuters in an interview.

Niblock’s comments came after Lowe’s posted a first-quarter profit that topped Wall Street’s expectations and raised its earnings forecast for the full year.

“California, Florida ... were the most heavily impacted by the runup in prices over the last years before the recession,” Niblock said. “We are still seeing significant negative comparable store sales coming out of those markets but those comp comparisons are less negative than they were previously, so the trend is moving in the right direction.”

Housing turnover also improved in those markets compared to a year ago, driven by foreclosures, but that was essential in the “bottoming process” for the housing market, he said.

Lowe’s also expects its home repair and maintenance items, which account for two-thirds of its business, to fare well, he said.

“Everything with respect to ongoing repair and maintenance around the home -- we still expect to see good performance on a relative basis compared to the rest of store,” Niblock said.

Lowe’s shares were up 8.4 percent at $20.00 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Reporting by Aarthi Sivaraman; Editing by Brian Moss