Home Depot laying off 1,000 nationwide

The cuts appear to be more fallout from the historic recession led by a housing crisis slow to abate.

However, Home Depot CEO Frank Blake said the latest job losses are part of a further centralizing of human resources and accounting functions.

"I want to reiterate that this is not a case of the company cutting expenses in reaction to broader economic pressures or our business performance," Blake wrote in a memo. "That said, it is never good news to announce layoffs. The personal hardship that this will cause for many of our associates makes this a very difficult decision."

Blake called it the "right" decision for the company and shareholders.

Since the housing market began to crash, the home improvement giant has cut nearly 20 percent of its Atlanta corporate headquarters workforce, or about 1,150 people. There are now 4,300 employed there.

Chain-wide, including Canada and Mexico, Home Depot has laid off nearly 11,000 employees, or about 3.4 percent of its 322,000 workforce.

In this round, employees will receive a minimum 60 days severance, help withmedical costs and job-placement assistance, and qualify for year-end bonuses.

Among the employees cut: 150 from the Atlanta headquarters, 750 from regional human resources and accounting offices, and 100 from the closure of three pilot stores: a clearance center in Austell, a hurricane recovery store in Waveland, Miss., and a small format store in Wilson, N.C.

The company also is trimming its construction and real estate staff as new store construction has nearly ground to a halt.

On the other hand, the company will create 200 jobs in Atlanta as part of the human resources restructuring, Home Depot spokesman Ron DeFeo said. The company also is in the middle of hiring thousands of temporary seasonal workers nationwide, which it does every year, to staff stores for the upcoming spring selling season.

There are no plans to close any of the chain's flagship "orange box" stores, nor will there be staff changes at those stores, Blake said in the memo.

Home Depot is the largest home improvement chain in the United States with 1,976 stores. Top rival Lowe's has more than 1,680 U.S. stores.

Home Depot's revenues have dropped by $7.7 billion since fiscal 2006 as the company shed its HD Supply division, closed dozens of Home Depot Expo and YardBird stores and centralized accounting and human resources functions.

Home Depot is set to announce fourth-quarter earnings on Feb. 23. Analysts expect earnings per share of $1.56. The company anticipates its annual revenues will drop by another 9 percent to about $65 billion.

Similar to many companies, however, Home Depot has held up profits by cutting costs and closing stores.

Home improvement sales have not seen the uptick of other retail segments such as clothing and electronics.

Part of the blame is foreclosures remain high, credit is still hard to obtain and double-digit unemployment continues to dampen consumer confidence.

The stock market had a tepid reaction to the layoffs. Home Depot shares closed at $27.73 on Tuesday, 11 cents or .4 percent above Monday's close.

Still, there could be better times ahead for the nation's third-largest retailer.

Colin McGranahan, a senior analyst with Bernstein Research in New York, said that the housing market is recovering.

"It's choppy -- not a straight-up line – but it is improving," McGranahan said. "And the home improvement market tends to lag the housing market, so it's a matter of time before it starts to grow again."

He expects Home Depot's sales to grow again by the third quarter of this year.

"After three pretty tough years for one of the largest organizations in Atlanta, there's better times ahead," McGranahan said.

INFO BOX: Home Depot's tale of pink slips

January 2008: 500 laid off from corporate headquarters.

April 2008: 970 laid off nationwide as human resources functions were centralized.

May 2008: Closed 15 Home Depot stores, affecting 1,300 employees.

January 2009: 7,000 laid off, 5,000 as Home Depot Expo and YardBirds stores closed and 2,000 in store support jobs (including 500 in Atlanta).

January 2010: Home Depot lays off 1,000 nationwide (including 150 in Atlanta).

Total Atlanta headquarters' employees: 4,300.

Total employees chainwide: 322,000

Home Depot's U.S. store count: 1,976.

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