* Fourth-quarter earnings $0.29/share vs est $0.31
* Revenue rises 5.6 pct to $11.66 bln
* Comparable store sales increase 3.9 pct
* Shares rise as much as 5.5 pct
(Adds analysts' and CEO comments, background; updates shares)
Feb 26 (Reuters) - Lowe's Cos Inc reported strong growth in quarterly sales, showing that the No. 2 U.S. home improvement retailer was narrowing the gap with market leader Home Depot Inc.
Lowe's shares rose as much as 5.5 percent in early trading, after the company reported that net sales increased 5.6 percent to $11.66 billion in the fourth quarter ended Jan. 31.
Home Depot on Tuesday reported a 3 percent decline in sales in the same period, which was marked by winter storms and record cold in much of North America.
"When extreme winter weather arrived late in the quarter, our distribution network responded quickly and efficiently to move product where it was most needed," Lowe's Chief Executive Robert Niblock said in a statement on Wednesday.
Lowe's, which struggled to catch up with Home Depot after the recession, has tried to arrest market share losses by offering discounts and products aimed at specific regions.
The company posted a 3.9 percent rise in comparable store sales in the fourth quarter.
"We believe that Lowe's has made significant operational strides, and is now positioned to benefit from its investments in its store resets and product line reviews," Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter wrote in a note to clients.
Lowe's gross margin expanded to 34.67 percent in the quarter ended Jan. 31 from 34.27 a year earlier.
Net income rose 6.3 percent to $306 million, or 29 cents per share, from $288 million, or 26 cents per share.
"For businesses that are this mature, to find growth like this is fairly difficult," Morningstar analyst Jaime Katz said.
Analysts on average were expecting a profit of 31 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Home Depot's net profit fell about 1 percent in the quarter.
Lowe's said it expected 2014 total sales to rise by about 5 percent. That translates to about $56.07 billion. The company also forecast earnings of about $2.60 per share for the year ending Jan. 30, 2015.
Analysts on average were expecting a profit of $2.64 per share on sales of $56.25 billion.
The Mooresville, North Carolina-based company also said its board had authorized an additional $5 billion share repurchase program.
Lowe's shares were up 5.3 percent at $50.65 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange. They had risen about 34 percent in the year up to Tuesday's close.
Home Depot's shares, which were little changed at $81.13, rose about 27 percent in the same period.
Lowe's stock were trading at 18.03 times forward earnings as of Tuesday's close, while Home Depot shares were trading at 17.54 times.
(Reporting by Maria Ajit Thomas in Bangalore; Editing by Joyjeet Das)