Home Depot posts strong 1st quarter

NEW YORK — Home Depot reported better than expected profit and revenue for the first quarter despite a damp start to 2019.

That inclement weather and an extra week in the previous fiscal year weighed on the home improvement retailer's comparable store sales, which increased 2.5%, short of the 4.2% expected by industry analysts.

Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said weather was not the only thing Home Depot had to deal with.

"The consumer economy was also more unfavorable than last year, when tax cuts, good tax refunds and generally high confidence were all boosting spend," Saunders said. "While shoppers are far from being in the doldrums, the prevailing attitude now is more cautious and careful."

The Atlanta company still foresees fiscal 2019 earnings up about 3.1% from fiscal 2018 to $10.03 per share. It maintains sales will rise by approximately 3.3%.

Home Depot earned $2.51 billion for the three months ended May 5. That compares with $2.4 billion a year ago. Revenue rose to $26.38 billion from $24.95 billion.

Home sales fell amid limited supply

WASHINGTON — U.S. home sales slipped 0.4% in April, as would-be buyers face affordability challenges and a limited supply of starter houses.

The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that existing homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million last month, down from 5.21 million in March.

Home sales have struggled despite the solid job market and lower mortgage rates, conditions that are usually favorable for buyers. The jobless rate has fallen to a five-decade low of 3.6%, while the average 30-year mortgage rate has declined to 4.07% from 4.61% a year ago. But buyers are grappling with home prices that have consistently risen faster than wages for much of the past seven years, while construction and sales listings have not responded to pent-up demand from would-be buyers.

Sales have tumbled 4.4% from a year ago. The sales decline is entirely concentrated in homes worth less than $250,000, a likely reflection of a shortage of properties at those price points being listed for sale.

Homes are still selling at a brisk pace. The average property sold in just 24 days, the fastest pace ever recorded by the Realtors. The median sales price in April was $267,300, up 3.6% from last year.

Record for summer air travel predicted

WASHINGTON — The airline industry's U.S. trade group is predicting another record for summer travel.

Airlines for America forecast Tuesday that 257.4 million people will fly on U.S. carriers between June 1 and Aug. 31.

That's a 3.4% increase over last summer, and it works out to about 2.8 million travelers a day.

The trade group says airlines are adding 111,000 seats per day, more than the predicted 93,000 increase in daily passengers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average inflation-adjusted price for a domestic ticket has dropped for four straight years to the lowest level since the agency began tracking the fare prices in 1995. But those numbers don't include all the extra fees that airlines now charge.

Raleigh airport adding more space

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — Raleigh-Durham International Airport is expanding both gates and security lanes as the airport copes with a record-breaking number of passengers.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports three budget airlines will join Southwest in Terminal 1 by April 1, 2020. The move by Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit Airlines will free space in Terminal 2.

To make room for the new airlines, four unused gates in Terminal 1 will be activated.

In addition, Terminal 2 now has two more security lanes for a total of 12.

Traffic continues to grow at RDU, where a record 6.4 million passengers flew last year. RDU officials say nearly 572,000 passengers boarded flights in April, a 6.2% increase compared to the same month last year.

Self-driving mail trucks are tested

PHOENIX — A self-driving truck company has partnered with the U.S. Postal Service to test autonomous technology on the long-haul route between Phoenix and Dallas.

San Diego-based TuSimple is planning for two autonomous trucks to carry mail and parcels on five round trips between the Postal Service distribution centers in the two cities starting Tuesday.

TuSimple says a safety engineer and a driver will be on board to monitor the trucks during the two-week pilot program.

The trucks use a camera system allowing the vehicles to view about 3,280 feet ahead.

The company says the Postal Service has contracted TuSimple to examine if the technology could reduce fuel costs, increase safety and improve fleet operation.

Tesla reduces prices amid stock slump

DETROIT — Faced with a slumping stock price and questions about demand for its vehicles, Tesla has lowered the U.S. base prices of its two most expensive models.

The company on Monday cut $3,000 from the price of the Model S sedan and $2,000 from the Model X SUV.

Tesla wouldn't say if slowing sales influenced the decision. But the company did say it periodically adjusts prices and available options like other car companies. Tesla says the decreases offset price increases from a month ago when it offered longer battery range and added a new drive system and suspension.

The Model S now starts at $71,250 while the X starts at $71,950. Both prices don't include federal and state tax credits.

GM car-sharing stops serving 8 cities

DETROIT — Maven, General Motors' car-sharing service, is being shut down in about half of the 17 North American markets it operates.

The company wouldn't say Tuesday where Maven will continue to operate, but it confirmed that it's pulling out of New York and Chicago.

GM said in a statement that it's not scrapping Maven, but rather concentrating on markets where it has the strongest demand and growth potential.

Maven, begun in 2016, allowed people to rent GM vehicles for short periods with an app. GM vehicles were strategically placed in in metro areas including Denver, Los Angeles, Baltimore, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Toronto and others.

It expanded to leases for ride-sharing drivers and added an app-based service that let owners share vehicles with others.

Celebrity chef's UK dining chain insolvent

LONDON — Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's British restaurant chain has become insolvent, putting 1,300 jobs at risk.

The firm said Tuesday that it had gone into administration, a form of bankruptcy protection, and appointed KPMG to oversee the process. The company operates 23 Jamie's Italian restaurants in the U.K.

Oliver, known around the world for his cookbooks and television shows, said he was "deeply saddened by this outcome and would like to thank all of the staff and our suppliers who have put their hearts and souls into this business for over a decade."

He said "I appreciate how difficult this is for everyone affected."

Burger King meatless burger goes to Europe

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Burger King will launch in Sweden a version of its Impossible Whopper, the plant-based burgers that have attracted attention in the United States for resembling meat far more closely than traditional veggie burgers.

The food chain said Tuesday that Sweden will be the first European country where it sells the new kind of veggie burger, with sales to start Wednesday.

Burger King already sells veggie burgers, but they mainly appeal to vegetarians not so interested in having a patty that tastes and looks like meat.

In April, Burger King tested the Impossible Whopper in the U.S. with the aim of selling more to meat eaters. The sale went so well that its parent company decided to expand.

The Impossible Whopper is made with a plant-based burger from Impossible Foods, a Redwood City, Calif.-based startup.

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott

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