When compared to leader Home Depot
Sales increased 18.1% last year, while inventories increased just 15.5%, implying a company that is getting better at managing inventories as it grows. Total debt -- that weed in the garden -- decreased $10 million. Although modest, the decrease implies that Lowe's has reached critical mass and can continue expanding by 18% a year, using operating cash flows to fund its rapid growth. Higher growth of both sales and earnings justifies Lowe's higher price-earnings multiple.
Where Home Depot shines like a new Kohler faucet is in free cash flow (a Fool's real friend). After capital expenses of $2.4 billion last year, Lowe's generated cash flow of $500 million. With almost $3 billion in free cash flow, Home Depot clearly has the resources to remain a threat, but Lowe's accelerating free cash flows do bear watching.
Meanwhile, Lowe's has guided analysts to expect sales growth of at least 17%, and earnings growth of 20%, for each of the next two years. Unlike El Paso
What might surprise you even more is that Lowe's enjoys excellent operating margins. Wal-Mart
Let me hammer this home: Lowe's had a great quarter and a great year. It improved its balance sheet and expects to increase earnings by 44% over the next two years. Like the premium hardware it sells, there is a reason Lowe's costs more.
Fool contributor W.D. Crotty owns stock in Home Depot (poor guy) and will be covering Home Depot's results tomorrow.