Shares of do-it-yourself home-improvement giant Lowe's (NYSE: LOW ) are 18% below last December's 52-week high. Second-quarter earnings released today indicate that the stock will remain in the doldrums for the time being, which suggests a decent entry point for long-term-oriented investors.
For the quarter, Lowe's reported a sales increase of 12.2%, while same-store sales grew 3.3%. Net earnings advanced 11.4%, and diluted earnings jumped 15.4%. While the CEO applauded Lowe's ability to report "solid quarterly sales and earnings results delivered in a challenging economic environment," earnings fell below analyst expectations, and the company lowered earnings expectations for the full year to $2.00-$2.07 per share, for a forward P/E of 16-17.
The results for the year were actually quite strong, and they served as another data point in a long history of sales and earnings growth at Lowe's. But investors fear more bad news to come, expecting a slowdown in the housing market. In addition, weaker consumer sentiment could seriously dent sales at Lowe's and its larger competitor, Inside Value recommendation Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) .
But overall, Lowe's should have plenty of growth prospects in its future. With 1,281 stores as of the beginning of August, the company was still able to grow the store base more than 12% from last year, and it has about 40% fewer stores than Home Depot. Having opened approximately 150 stores during its past fiscal year, Lowe's has, in my estimation, about five more years of growth before it matches Home Depot's current numbers. In addition, it just announced plans to head to expand into Canada.
In Lowe's most recent 10-K, it estimated the U.S. home-improvement market at $700 billion, made up of $550 billion in related merchandise (DIY) and $150 billion in labor to install products and related services -- a.k.a. the do-it-for-me market, or DIFM. Lowe's reported total sales of a little more than $45 billion over the past 12 months, while Home Depot reported about $88 billion, for a total of $133 billion, or just less than 20% of the total estimated market. While both retailers are already 800-pound gorillas, they could conceivably get much bigger (and hairier). Home Depot is already moving aggressively into the DIFM segment of the industry as its store growth begins to mature. Then again, so is Lowe's -- but to a lesser extent, since it hasn't yet tapped out all of its potential DIY growth.
Lowe's is clearly not growing as quickly as it used to, but it's still projected to be able to grow earnings in the double digits for the foreseeable future. It also operates in only about half of the top 100 metropolitan markets domestically. That suggests that it still can expand in markets with a high density of homes and consumers.
There will always be concerns that economic growth and demand for new homes will fall, hitting all the companies involved in the home-improvement market in the process, including retailers and suppliers such as Masco (NYSE: MAS ) , Sherwin-Williams (NYSE: SHW ) , and Whirlpool (NYSE: WHR ) .
However, the numbers demonstrate that the market is immense, with opportunities to take share even if the market doesn't expand. As such, Lowe's is well-positioned to grow. And if future growth comes close to matching the stellar numbers it has posted over the past five years, investors would be well-advised to take advantage of short-term noise and consider picking up some shares for potential long-term gains.
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