Lowe's Cos. (LOW), the nation's second-largest home-improvement retailer, said Monday its third-quarter earnings rose nearly 26 percent, beating Wall Street's expectations, as homeowners continued to spend money despite rising home heating and gasoline costs. Shares of Lowe's soared more than 6 percent.

The retailer posted earnings of $649 million, or 81 cents a share, compared with $516 million, or 65 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expected earnings of 77 cents per share in the third quarter.

"Our employees provided exceptional service in a quarter marked by the distractions of three major hurricanes," chairman and chief executive officer Robert Niblock said in a statement.

Sales for the quarter increased 16.9 percent to $10.6 billion, up from $9.1 billion in the third quarter of 2004. Sales at stores open at least a year increased 6.2 percent in the quarter.

Shares of Lowe's rose $4.03, or 6.5 percent, to $66 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company forecast earnings per share of 77 cents to 80 cents for the fourth third quarter, and $3.37 to $3.40 per share for the year.

For the nine months ended Oct. 28, profit grew 24.5 percent to $2.08 billion while earnings per share increased 24.5 percent to $2.59. Sales increased 16.2 percent to $32.4 billion in the first nine months of the year and comparable store sales increased 5.5 percent in the same period, the company said.

Home Depot Inc. (HD), the nation's largest home improvement chain, reports its earnings Tuesday.