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makeovers@ (Adds quotes from CEO, CFO, and analyst; updates share prices)
Feb 26 (Reuters) - Home Depot Inc missed Wall Street forecasts for quarterly sales on Tuesday, as a snowy winter prevented many Americans from remodeling home exteriors in a housing market that is slowing on the back of high prices.
Shares of the largest U.S. home improvement retailer fell 3 percent, with losses limited by the promise of $15 billion in share buybacks and a 32 percent boost to its dividend.
Separately, official data on Tuesday showed U.S. housing starts hitting a two-year low in December on falling construction of both single and multi-family housing, a significant source of revenue for Home Depot and smaller rival Lowe's.
Home Depot said cold weather during December and January hit sales in the three months to Feb. 3.
"It was cold, it was snowy, and perhaps worst of all, it was wet," Home Depot Chief Executive Craig Menear said on a conference call with analysts.
Chief Financial Officer Carol Tome added that the company had not expected such a wet winter. "Sometimes, weather-driven demand can help sales growth, sometimes hurt," Tome said.
Fourth-quarter sales at U.S. Home Depot outlets open at least for a year rose only 3.7 percent, lagging Wall Street analysts' forecasts of a 4.5 percent increase, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
The Atlanta-headquartered retailer also projected full-year earnings below estimates, forecasting $10.03 per share, against expectations of $10.26.
The projections come as Home Depot invests billions of dollars in bolstering its e-commerce operations and store infrastructure as it battles Lowe's and online stores including Amazon.com Inc.
Investors were "unimpressed" by the Home Depot's outlook, said GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders.
"There are definitely some concerns that Home Depot's business will come under more pressure as the economy and housing market slow down," he said.
Still, Home Depot's forecast of a 5 percent rise in full-year same-store sales beat expectations of a 4.45 percent increase.
Overall fourth-quarter sales of $26.49 billion missed Wall Street estimates but showed an 11 percent growth from a year earlier.
Shares in Lowe's, which is scheduled to report quarterly results on Wednesday, fell 0.4 percent in morning trade. (Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)