The specifics of the quarter can be found in Thursday's Fool by Numbers, but in a nutshell, total sales grew 7.1% and diluted earnings grew an impressive 21.5% as operating profitability improved, according to the company press release. In other words, robust growth continues.
Beginning this year, because of management shifts, Sherwin-Williams adjusted the way it reports results for its three primary operating units; the company press release included details of current results as well as last year's adjusted results. For the quarter, the paint stores segment grew 9.5%, attributed to strong sales to contractors, though sales to that group could be softening as the new home construction market cools off. Paint store sales accounted for nearly 64% of total sales for the quarter.
The consumer group accounted for almost 17% of total sales and experienced a decrease of 1.5% due to weakness for the major do-it-yourself chains -- Lowe's
When I last wrote about Sherwin-Williams' stock back in June, it was trading at about $46; it has run all the way up to about $58.14. Still, the valuation appears reasonable at under 15 times trailing earnings, but there continues to be uncertainty about lead-paint litigation.
Legal risk is the likely culprit keeping the valuation down because Sherwin-Williams is a very profitable, consistently growing company. It hasn't lost a case since lawsuits emerged in the 1980s after lead paint was banned in 1978. But a recent case in Rhode Island turned heads because the state ruled that Sherwin-Williams and other past lead-paint providers such as Millennium Holdings and NL Industries
At the end of August, lawyers for the three defendants asked for the case to be dismissed on grounds that the state didn't have sufficient evidence to lead to a ruling that the three were liable for creating a public nuisance for making and selling lead paint. I haven't seen an update since, but the potential cost to the companies could be in the billions of dollars.
Judging by the stock price, the market is not placing a high probability of any material negative implications for Sherwin-Williams. However, the case is likely to continue to be a drag on the stock, even as the company keeps posting impressive growth trends. Your better bet may be to consider the do-it-yourself giants: They are retailers similar to Sherwin-William's paint stores and have equally compelling growth prospects even with concerns that the housing market could be slowing. The kicker is they don't have those major litigation issues.
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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann is long shares of Home Depot but has no financial interest in any other company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.