Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) has long played the role of runner-up in the home improvement category. But with a new management team, a turnaround plan in hand, and a stronger consumer base still willing to buy into the renovation cycle of homeownership, the parts are in place to engineer the recovery that has always seemed just out of reach.
Yet the DIY center is also undergoing a major restructuring, something that doesn't always go as planned, not least because there are so many moving parts. Lowe's still has substantial upgrades to its e-commerce business it needs to implement, along with supply-chain enhancements to wring out the best pricing for its operations. And it's doing so as chief rival Home Depot (NYSE:HD) is also investing heavily on its performance to maintain its lead.
Let's look at whether Lowe's stock, which is up 22% year to date -- on par with the market indexes as a whole -- is a good one to buy.
Finally tackling tech
Lowe's started 2019 on its back foot, but regained its balance in the second quarter as the improvements that the home improvement specialist is making on itself began to pay off. Sales rose and profits expanded despite confronting a challenging environment that saw lumber prices fall and difficult weather conditions.
The chain has worked to improve the customer experience by overhauling its technology foundation, which was a decade old. Lowe's "replatformed" the entire site to Google Cloud, which ought to enhance its ability to speed customers through search to checkout. The commitment to this change is reflected in its building of a new global technology center.
While that's the kind of "under the hood" improvements that are necessary to put Lowe's back on track, the more tangible gains will come from Lowe's finally paying the kind of attention to professional contractors that Home Depot has so excellently exploited over the years.
Looking to contractors to build growth
Lowe's has always been the homeowner-focused retailer, but it's finally realized the contractor will provide its steady and elevated store traffic, with more and bigger transactions, leading to greater sales per square foot.
The retailer says it laid the foundation for attracting those customers in the first half of the year, and it's starting to already show up in its results. Pro customers outpaced DIYers, and it opened 35,000 new pro accounts in the quarter, so Lowe's has a solid base to keep growing.
Yet investors shouldn't expect the results of this new focus to show immediate improvement in its stock price.
It's a marathon, not a sprint
Lowe's is still facing headwinds in Canada, where it posted negative sales growth at existing stores. Despite having acquired Canadian home improvement rival RONA over three years ago, it is still having difficulty integrating the business into its operations. That has forced the retailer to alter its strategy for folding the company into its plans, though it remains committed to doing so.
Lowe's still needs to spend more on capital improvements to further enhance its internal systems and its supply chain, even as Home Depot is investing heavily on its own. Analysts have tempered their growth outlook for Big Orange as a result, and there's no reason to believe Lowe's spending plans also won't stretch out the recovery.
What's it worth to investors?
Yet CEO Marvin Ellison says many of the gains that Lowe's is achieving are coming about because it is willing to sacrifice short-term profitability for long-term success. Investors should have a similar mindset.
Its stock looks fairly priced with shares valued at 16 times next year's estimated earnings, and analysts expect them to expand at 15% annually for the next three to five years, making it making it neither a value stock or a growth stock. Buying the home improvement center's stock now is based on it building a solid foundation for the future, and it seems to have that business well in hand.