What Do Baseball and Home Depot Have in Common?

It's the season of spring training for Major League Baseball as the boys of summer are limbering up in South Florida and other warm locales. Meanwhile, the home-improvement retail sector is warming up in the bullpen. 

In fact, Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) said last week it plans to begin hiring about 83,000 part-time workers, as the leading home-improvement retailer gets ready for the spring season. Tim Crow, Home Depot's executive vice president of human resources, said in the announcement, "Spring is our peak hiring season, giving us the opportunity to find some of the best associates who are passionate about customer service."

Home Depot scouts for prospects of a housing-market recovery
Home Depot performed quite well in 2013, aided in part by an improvement in the housing market during the first half of the year. In its third-quarter report, Home Depot announced sales of $19.5 billion -- a 7.4% increase from the third quarter of fiscal 2012.

The company reported solid net earnings --$1.4 billion, or $0.95 per diluted share, compared with net earnings of $947 million, or $0.63 per diluted share, in the same period of 2012. Home Depot also raised its fiscal 2013 sales guidance and anticipates sales to grow by about 5.6%. The company also expects diluted earnings per share to be up by 24% to $3.72 for the year.

The big news for Home Depot so far in 2014 is its acquisition last month of Blinds.com. Home Depot believes this deal will position the company to move rapidly into the online window-coverings market. But this could also be the shape of things to come for Home Depot, as it hopes to capitalize on the online sales and service model of Blinds.com.

Home Depot's share price had a hot streak during 2013 -- rising about 40% before topping off at about $82 per share. The stock is currently hovering at $78. The company is slated to announce fourth-quarter and year-end earnings for 2013 on Feb. 25, and it's not too early in the season for investors to keep an eye on the scoreboard.

That being said, Home Depot should continue to be a good choice for investors with a long-term view if the housing sector comes through with much needed middle-inning relief, or in the second quarter.

Lowe's warms up in the on-deck circle
Lowe's (NYSE: LOW  ) is Home Depot's main rival as well as the second-largest home-improvement retailer. Lowe's is well positioned for the wild card since the company is more focused on lawn care and yard furnishings -- although it is a bit early for customers to think about yardwork when they are still shoveling through the snow.

Lowe's third-quarter report for fiscal 2013 was solid, with earnings per share rising 34.3% and revenue up by 7.3% year over year. The figures were driven by strong comparable-store sales that grew by 6.2%. Finally, the company stated the home-improvement sector was poised for continued growth in the fourth quarter and "further acceleration in 2014." Investors should set their alarms for Feb. 26, when Lowe's will announce its fourth-quarter and year-end results.

The payoff pitch
Investors should note that the housing-market recovery stalled in the second half of the year. Moreover, the harsh winter across the country may have affected the performance of the home-improvement retail sector in the fourth quarter. This could also be the reason both Home Depot's and Lowe's share prices are off by about 7% this year.

While investors in the home-improvement game should not base their decisions on groundhog predictions, winter is not over yet. However, as Home Depot's human resources executive said, springtime is the company's busiest hiring season. And plans of adding 83,000 part-time workers indicate the company has high hopes for another winning year.

Although it's too soon to say what the baseball season will bring for either the sport or home-improvement retailers, Home Depot and Lowe's remain strong in many ways. Each has a solid history of revenue and earnings growth, and the next wave of the housing-market recovery, like springtime, is inevitable.

Meanwhile, it's also highly likely that tickets for Yankees games will spike now that Derek Jeter has announced his retirement. And unless you're Mariano Rivera, there's no crying in baseball. In the final analysis, buying shares of Home Depot and Lowe's as well as tickets for Jeter's last curtain call is a win-win.

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