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Lowe's hunts major markets

Focused on major market entries, Lowe's now has 22 percent of its stores in the nation's 25 largest markets, and more than half in the top 100 markets, according to Robert Niblock, executive vp and cfo.

Moreover, Lowe's plans 15 to 16 percent growth in square footage this year, with 125 new market stores, and five relocations, according to Robert Tillman, chairman and ceo. Sixty-five percent of new stores will focus on the 100 largest markets.

Their comments were made during the Q4 and year-end conference call with analysts last week. (See financials, p. 22.)

Niblock said two-thirds of the new stores will open in the back half of the year. As the company continues to pursue major metro areas, he said the timing of stores and the lead times become slightly more difficult to predict. But he added that the advertising component of store opening costs has been reduced as Lowe's benefits from national advertising.

Inventory was up only 9.9 percent in the quarter, said Niblock, significantly less than the 16.5 percent sales growth. In addition, inventory turns were up 32 basis points to 4.60.

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