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More Upside to Come with this Housing Play: Lowe’s Companies, Inc. (LOW), The Home Depot, Inc. (HD)

Lowe’s Companies, Inc. (NYSE:LOW) gave numbers on a bad day for the market and the subsequent fall in the share price means investors could be forgiven that for thinking that there was something wrong with them. Then again, that just shows that you should never take the market’s word for it! I thought the results were good and although I also hold The Home Depot, Inc. (NYSE:HD) I bought some Lowe’s too. No one said you can’t buy both!

Lowe’s has upside

They may appear to be identical twins but I think Lowe’s has a bit more upside. Analysts are forever trying to make quarter on quarter conclusions over whether Home Depot or Lowe’s is taking market share from each other but I don’t think analyzing their relative prospects is as simple as that. In this case, Lowe’s Companies, Inc. (NYSE:LOW) has had a lot more execution difficulties than Home Depot following the housing market slump. The good news is that it now has upside from executing its strategy of making product line reviews and resets. In other words, it can play catch up with The Home Depot, Inc. (NYSE:HD) by simply undergoing blocking and tackling measures in its stores.

Of course these things are much easier to do when the housing market is showing signs of strength and Lowe’s recent results reflect this. Ten of its fourteen categories showed growth in the quarter with strength in the larger ticket and more discretionary items like lumber, cabinets, and countertops. The relative weakness in its outdoor and garden sales is only to be expected after the unseasonally warm winter last year made for tough comparables.

Sandy did its bit too and overall comparable same store sales did well, rising 1.9% in the quarter.

What the market worried about

One issue that concerned the market was the promotional activity that saw some pricing cuts. However, the promotions were targeted at specific items and are part of the program of product line reviews and resets. Lowe’s is trying to normailze inventory levels across all its lines. In addition, Lowe’s usually has promotions in the fourth quarter, so it’s nothing unusual. The difference this year was actually on the positive side, with the promotions being described as much more balanced than in recent years.

Lowe’s has completed 80% of its product reviews and 30% of the resets and its management feels confident that when the other 70% are completed by the end of 2013, gross margins will rise as a consequence. Indeed, it achieved mid-single digit growth in the categories that have already been reset with a 100 basis point improvement in margins. The strategy is working.

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