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Better Buy: Amazon vs. Lowe's

By James Brumley - Jan 19, 2021 at 10:14AM

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Most investors don't fully appreciate this company's plans to create new shareholder value in 2021.

There's no denying Amazon (AMZN 4.03%) is a powerhouse within the retailing arena. Digital Commerce 360 estimates that the company controls nearly one-fourth of the United States e-commerce market, while eMarketer puts the figure closer to 40%. Yet, the company continues to find ways to grow. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Amazon boasted more than 10 consecutive years of revenue growth, and net income has absolutely exploded since the organization finally put all the pieces of its puzzle together in 2017. Analysts are calling for 18% revenue growth this year, despite the tough comps created by last year's surge in online shopping.

Picking a particular stock is a relative matter, though. Its price compared to earnings, business risks, and even changes in the public's perception of a company are all factors that can affect a stock's price.

That's why, of the two prospective purchases right now, home improvement retailer Lowe's (LOW 3.70%) is the better pick. Whereas Amazon's got a tough act to follow after an incredible 2020, Lowe's is starting 2021 with a head of steam most investors may still be underestimating. Two initiatives in particular should lead its unexpectedly strong growth.

New and improved

Lowe's has never been a "bad company" per se. But it's generally played second fiddle to rival Home Depot (HD 3.15%) in terms of size and growth. Lowe's stock has also consistently lagged Home Depot's performance over the course of the past 10 years. Investors have arguably learned to expect the company to be a perpetual runner-up.

Dog sitting on a first-place podium

Image source: Getty Images.

A funny thing happened to Lowe's in 2020, though. Largely driven by relatively new CEO Marvin Ellison (yes, the same Ellison that used to be an executive with Home Depot), in December Lowe's unveiled a new growth plan dubbed Total Home. Like most overhaul strategies, this one is loaded with financial goals. Unlike most growth initiatives, this one's actually got a couple of clear business ideas that will get the company to its fiscal finish line.

One of those specific plans is a deeper dive into the professional contractor market.

As it stands right now, only between 20% and 25% of Lowe's yearly revenue of around $85 billion comes from builders, remodelers, and related tradespeople. The retailer hopes to push that proportion up to 50%.

It's a lofty goal to be sure, and the company certainly won't get there overnight. But it's not an unreasonable goal. That's roughly the suggested proportion of Home Depot's revenue that comes from building and repair professionals. If Lowe's is able to add that contractor business -- which doesn't necessarily detract from its DIY business -- the company could see incremental revenue growth on the order of $35 billion per year.

It's already begun this journey, by the way. In August, the home improvement retailer announced it would begin offering tool rental service from coast to coast. As Executive Vice President of Stores Joe McFarland noted around that same time, 70% of professional contractors regularly rent tools. This new service draws professionals to its stores, where they may then also buy goods like lumber, nails, and shingles.

The other noteworthy detail buried in Lowe's 79-page slideshow laying out Total Home is the company's plan to upgrade its technological infrastructure (and its website in particular) to better serve customers where they live. Though it didn't offer specifics, expect to see more deliveries coming from local stores, enhancements in the supply chain's predictive capabilities, and better in-store employee technology tools that facilitate a better customer shopping experience. The latter two of those three items should collectively make or save the company roughly an additional $4 billion.

The clincher: Last month, the company budgeted another $15 billion worth of stock buybacks, adding to the remaining $4.7 billion still available from a previous repurchase program. For perspective, Lowe's current market cap is $125 billion.

Investors were made aware of all these plans last month. As a group, though, investors haven't yet come to fully appreciate just how big this coming overhaul is. The stock's still only where it was as of August. There's the crux of your opportunity.

The better pick for right now

If you own a stake in Amazon, don't panic. It's hardly doomed. The biggest risk in owning it right now is investors' reaction to what will look like a slowdown this year. But that would still only be a temporary headwind.

Anyone looking to put some cash to work right now, however, may find Lowe's to be a much easier name to stomach, as well as a more productive pick. The market is largely looking past the potential of its Total Home initiative, but that mistake should be corrected in the foreseeable future once investors see the work translated into numbers. That's especially the case in light of the fact that analysts are calling for a slight decrease in 2021's top and bottom lines after a rather robust 2020.

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Stocks Mentioned

The Home Depot, Inc. Stock Quote
The Home Depot, Inc.
$302.81 (3.15%) $9.24, Inc. Stock Quote, Inc.
$2,221.55 (4.03%) $86.05
Lowe's Companies, Inc. Stock Quote
Lowe's Companies, Inc.
$195.53 (3.70%) $6.98

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