HD CEO Mum on Supply Sale

ATLANTA (AP) – The Home Depot Inc.'s chief executive, Frank Blake, offered little hint Monday as to the fate of the sale of the company's wholesale distribution unit to a group of private equity firms.

During a speech before the Rotary Club of Atlanta, focusing on the company's operations and efforts to improve customer service, Blake said the deal to sell HD Supply is “hopefully” going to close “sometime very soon.” He didn't address the issue further, and he wasn't asked to elaborate on it during a question-and-answer session with Rotary Club members.

Blake did not respond to questions about the HD Supply sale from an Associated Press reporter as he left the speech.

He then hopped into an awaiting SUV and left.

Last Wednesday, the world's largest home improvement store chain said the expected closing date of the sale of HD Supply had been extended by a week, from Aug. 16 to Aug. 23.

When the deal was announced in June, Home Depot said it would sell the unit for $10.3 billion, but since then, as financial markets have faced turmoil, Home Depot has said it was in discussions with the buyers about restructuring the agreement, which the company has acknowledged could result in the price tag being reduced.

Also last week, Atlanta-based Home Depot reported a 14.8 percent drop in second-quarter profit.

Chief Financial Officer Carol Tome said during an investor conference call on the day of the earnings release that Home Depot would have to cut by nearly half the size of its plan to repurchase up to $22.5 billion in company stock if the sale of its HD Supply unit falls through.

Later, she told AP she was “just trying to do the math” for an analyst who asked her about the issue. Tome said any reduction in the stock repurchase plan would be subject to board approval.

During Monday's speech, Blake reiterated that Home Depot will be scaling back the number of new stores the company opens in years to come so it can focus on growing its existing business.

He was asked if the company had tried unsuccessfully in the past to be all things to all people.

We have opportunities to get sharper focus,” Blake responded.

Home Depot shares rose 39 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $33.70 in late trading Monday.