Home improvement retailer Lowe's Cos. (LOW) on Tuesday said it expects diluted earnings per share rising in both 2005 and 2006 as it benefits from increased remodeling activity and a rise in home ownership.

The second-largest home improvement retailer behind Home Depot (HD) also sees third-quarter earnings meeting or beating current analysts' estimates.

The Mooresville, N.C., retailer, which is holding its analyst's meeting in New York, forecast that diluted per-share profit would climb 15 percent to 16 percent this year, 21 percent to 24 percent in fiscal 2005, and 18 percent to 20 percent in fiscal 2006.

Lowe's, which is moving into large U.S. markets as rival Home Depot invests heavily in store improvements, also said it was comfortable with previous forecasts that sales at stores open at least a year would rise 3 percent to 4 percent in the third quarter and 6 percent for 2004.

The company said it expects to add 150 stores in 2005 and 150 to 160 stores in 2006. It forecast annual sales increases of 16 percent to 17 percent in fiscal 2005 and about 16 percent in 2006.

Lowe's reaffirmed its previous guidance for third-quarter earnings in the range of 65 cents to 66 cents. The company said it expects profit of $2.69 to $2.70 a share for 2004.

Analysts currently expect Lowe's to post profit of 65 cents a share for the third quarter and $2.70 for the full year, according to Reuters Estimates. For fiscal 2005, analysts foresee per-share profit of $3.34, which would represent a 24 percent increase over the 2004 estimate.