Lowe's Companies expects this quarter to cut the ribbon on 17 of the 42 new stores it plans to open this year, the home improvement retailer announced today. The company also said it expects to increase sales 2% to 4% this fiscal quarter, following a third quarter ended Oct. 29 in which net earnings rose 17.4% from the year-earlier period to $404 million.

Sales for the Mooresville, N.C.-based retailer rose just 1.9% in the third quarter to $4.6 billion as uncertainty in the employment and housing sector damped business.

"As we've seen over the past several quarters, consumers are not yet willing to consistently take on larger, discretionary home improvement projects," chairman and CEO Robert Niblock said in a conference call. "They remain cautious and continue to rationalize the scope of their projects or, in many cases, delay projects until they have better clarity about their personal financial situations, the value of their homes, and the overall macroeconomic outlook."

As for the fourth quarter, Lowe's plans to open 17 new stores and are predicting a total sales increase of 2% to 4%. By the time its fiscal year ends in January 2011, the company said, it will have added 42 new locations and increased total sales 3% to 4% from the year-earlier period.