The Home Depot reported today, May 20, that net earnings in the fiscal first quarter ended May 4 plunged 66% to $356 million from just over $1 billion in the same quarter a year ago as a result of ongoing weakness in the housing market and a one-time charge of $543 million, senior editor Andy Carlo reports. The charge stems from the Atlanta-based retailer's recent decision to close 15 underperforming stores and remove 50 future stores from its development pipeline. Excluding the charge, Home Depot had net earnings of $697 million. First quarter sales fell 3.4% to $17.9 billion from nearly $18.6 billion in the first quarter of 2007 while same store sales fell 6.5% during the period. This year's report also pales against last year's in part because the 2007 quarter lasted 14 weeks and this year's quarter was 13 weeks long.

Home Depot's average ticket for the fiscal first quarter dropped 2.8% to $57.36 from $59.01.

"The housing and home improvement markets remained difficult in the first quarter; in fact, conditions worsened in many areas of the country," Frank Blake, chairman and CEO of Home Depot, said in a statement.