The daily headline trail for Home Depot
Probably, but not any time soon. Many investors and other observers, including fellow Fool Richard Duprey in his most recent article, are piping mad right now. They have every right to be, but things should eventually blow over; the company itself is performing quite well.
Management, interested in its own survival, has also begun to change its tone to mea culpa. Today, it acquiesced to shareholders and announced that it will again allow questions during its annual meetings. If you recall, a number of shareholders were up in arms regarding CEO Robert Nardelli's decision to hold only a brief meeting and not allow general questions at least week's annual meeting. They speculated he did so to duck any confrontation regarding what some see as his excessive remuneration package over the past five years.
Certain other details were released today as well. Shareholders withheld about 30% of the total votes required to reelect Nardelli, and proposals to allow shareholder input into executive pay and retirement benefits were rejected. The only proposal to pass included changing the voting structure for electing directors, which now must require a majority vote to be elected. Shareholders were also perturbed that Mr. Nardelli was the only director to attend the annual meeting, so the company promised all directors would attend future gatherings.
It is true that Mr. Nardelli's pay over the past five years has exceeded $100 million, and gone much higher than that if you include other potential options. There's no doubt that this is a lot of compensation for one individual, but it could be much worse. Have you seen the recent compensation figures for some of the more famous hedge fund managers? A recent article stated that James Simons of Renaissance Capital earned $1.5 billion last year. The average pay, according to Institutional Investor's Alpha magazine, averaged $363 million in 2005. For one year! The highest-paid corporate CEO was listed as Richard Fairbank at Capital One, who brought in $250 million last year. Too high, if you ask me, but the good news is that corporate shareholders appear to finally be uniting to fight obscene pay packages.
The final thorn in investors' side is that Home Depot's stock is down in absolute terms over Mr. Nardelli's tenure. It has lagged the market and archrival Lowe's
Favorably, a flat stock coupled with rising earnings has caused the P/E multiple to fall from an admittedly crazy high of 56 in 1999 to the current 14. That looks like a rather compelling valuation for a very profitable company that is projected to continue growing in the double digits, barring any serious housing meltdown in the U.S.
Although management's current actions were clearly egregious, I believe they're repenting, and the events qualify as temporary bad news for a company with favorable long-term growth prospects. I've owned a few shares ever since Nardelli took over and the stock fell into the low $20s back in 2003. At current levels, I'd definitely consider adding to the position.
Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann is long shares of Home Depot, but he has no financial interest in Lowe's or any other company mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss the company further.