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Office Depot Inc (ODP), OfficeMax Inc (OMX): Staples, Inc. (SPLS) Is Fighting Hard Against Industry Trends

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Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS), the once-dominant office supply store, isn’t what it used to be due to weak consumer spending and competitive online threats. However, Staples is attempting to expand its online business. While Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS) continues to venture into this Amazon-dominated realm, it’s doing everything it can to reward its shareholders via dividends and stock buybacks. The question is whether or not Staples can buy enough time to turn its business around, or if it will slowly fade away as a result of mounting headwinds.

Recent results

In the second quarter, sales declined 2.2% to $5.31 billion year over year, mostly due to international weakness; international sales plummeted 8.3%. The austere environment in Europe has presented a significant headwind, which was evidenced by a 6% decline in comparable store sales. Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS) has closed 49 stores in Europe since the year-ago quarter, which might limit top-line potential, but should aid the bottom line.

Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS)In North America, sales dropped 2.3%, with comps declining 3%. This is a clear indication that most North American consumers are hesitant to spend money unless it is necessary. Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS) has seen reduced traffic, lower average order size, and has been forced to close 54 stores across North America.

On the bright side,’s sales have jumped 3.5% year over year, and commercial sales increased a moderate 1.3%. According to, Staples is currently ranked No. 972 globally and No. 211 in the United States. These impressive rankings should indicate Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS)’ online potential moving forward.

Speaking of which, Staples also plans on increasing its online presence. This will cost money, but Staples seems to have enough cash and cash flow to handle it. Currently, Staples has $1.19 billion in cash and short-term equivalents (vs. $1.97 billion in long-term debt), and it expects to generate $900 million in free cash flow for the year.

For the second quarter, diluted EPS came in at $0.16 versus $0.19 in the year-ago quarter. Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS) has made several moves in order to improve the bottom line, which include reducing headcount, changing management incentive programs, limiting marketing, and buying back shares. Due to a competitive pricing environment, these moves were necessary.

Staples also must contend with the fact that lower-margin products are more in demand than high-margin products. For instance, today’s consumer is more interested in mobile technological devices and print and copy services than business machines, office supplies, ink, and toner.

An often overlooked peer

Staples is often compared to Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP) and OfficeMax Inc (NYSE:OMX). However, United Stationers Inc. (NASDAQ:USTR), a pure wholesaler of business products, isn’t often mentioned in the conversation. Consider some key metrics for these four stocks prior to deciding which one you think is likely to provide the best investment opportunity.

Metric Forward P/E Net Margin ROE Dividend Yield Debt-to-Equity Ratio Short Position
Staples 11 (1.02%) (3.18%) 3.40% 0.33 8.80%
Office Depot 63 (1.25%) (12.64%) None 0.68 27.30%
Office Max 18 6.63% 56.06% 0.70% 0.99 12.20%
United Stationers 12 2.34% 16.31% 1.40% 0.68 11.60%

(Source: Company financial statements)

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