Top home improvement retailer Home Depot Inc delivered better-than-expected quarterly results on Tuesday as it held down expenses, but said per-share operating profit would fall in 2009.

Home Depot, which is cutting 7,000 jobs as it shutters its Expo Design Center chain and trims corporate costs, also said it would open fewer new stores this year.

The retailer posted a net loss of $54 million, or 3 cents a share, for the fourth quarter ended February 1, compared with earnings of $671 million, or 40 cents a share, a year earlier.

The latest period included a pretax charge of $387 million tied to the Expo closures and a $163 million writedown of an investment.

Excluding those items, profit from continuing operations was 19 cents a share, better than analysts' average estimate of 15 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Sales fell 17 percent to $14.61 billion. Sales at stores open at least a year, an important measure, fell 13 percent, hurt by an extra week in the year-earlier quarter. Excluding the calendar shift, same-store sales fell 11.5 percent. Home Depot said same-store sales for U.S. stores were down 9.2 percent.

Operating expenses fell 2 percent in the fourth quarter.

Home improvement retailers have posted weak results and cut spending as the U.S. housing slump and tight credit curtailed demand for big-ticket remodels.

Home Depot's quarterly earnings have fallen for more than two years. Last week, rival Lowe's Cos posted its sixth-consecutive fall in quarterly profit and cut its planned store openings.

Atlanta-based Home Depot said per-share earnings from continuing operations would fall about 7 percent for the next fiscal year. It plans to open 12 net new stores this year, compared with 40 opened in 2008, as capital spending falls to $1 billion.

The full-year outlook assumes no further share buybacks or any potential sales benefit from the U.S. economic stimulus package, Home Depot said.

Home Depot shares were up 3 percent to $19.26 in premarket trade on Tuesday from their Monday close of $18.71 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Derek Caney)