Here's what some might consider a contrarian play for me, considering that I haven't exactly been in a love affair with Bob Nardelli. Despite the woes of its ousted CEO, I'm choosing Home Depot
Let's see why Home Depot -- and not longtime nemesis Lowe's
- It's focused. The top story of 2006 is now a footnote: Nardelli and his boorish behavior are just cocktail talk now.
- It's big. It has more than 2,100 stores in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, and elsewhere. In 2005, it had $81.5 billion in revenues and profits of $5.8 billion. On a trailing-12-month basis, revenues were in excess of $90 billion, with earnings surpassing $6.1 billion. Lowe's, on the other hand, is about half the size and earns only half the profits.
- It's nimble. For all its size, and for whatever metric you choose to compare, Home Depot is able to match Lowe's or beat it every step of the way. Price-to-sales? Home Depot rings in at 0.99, Lowe's at 1.13. Net profit margins? Home Depot, 6.8%; Lowe's, 6.7%. Where Home Depot's total debt stands in excess of $8.2 billion to Lowe's $4.1 billion, the Depot's debt-to-equity ratio matches Lowe's at 0.29. And it trades at a lower multiple than its competitor does.
OK, so perhaps I've laid out the case for Home Depot beating Lowe's in the race this year, but what about the market? There are a lot of retailers vying for the top spot -- even Sears Holding
When you've been beaten down, you have the chance for a bigger surprise.
Betting on the underdog
Despite its CEO getting the boot and a new face taking command, markets tend to be ambivalent about a company's ability to perform in such situations.
Francis Blake, while a newcomer to the CEO position (he's never run a company before), is seen as a Nardelli protege who will try not to rock the boat while steering the company through the waters already charted by his predecessor. I think they read the man wrong. He may be a newcomer, but he's been around the block, and I don't think he'll hesitate to put his own stamp on Home Depot's course. The retailer wasn't so much floundering on the shore as distracted by the man steering the boat.
That's not to say Blake doesn't have his work cut out for him. Employee morale is low and customer dissatisfaction with service is high. Contractors are said to be distrustful of using HD Supply, the company's contractor-only warehouse-store concept, but I think that's more anecdotal than real. HD Supply was able to organically grow revenues by 7% over last year, though that also caused a decline in gross margins year over year because it is a lower-margin business than the retail outlets.
Sure, the weakening housing market will play havoc with results, but acquisitions in the supply business will help reduce its cyclicality. The overall economy remains strong with low inflation, fuel prices are easing, and international growth possibilities abound in Canada, Mexico, and now China.
What do you think, Fool?
How about you? Do you think Home Depot is set to rebuild its image as the top retailer in 2007? You can rate Home Depot's performance relative to the market in the Motley Fool CAPS community-intelligence database. Just click here to say your piece. Based on the responses of our readers and participants, we'll declare the best retail stock of 2007 early next week.
For more on the Home Depot story, check these related Foolish articles:
- The Vilification of Bob Nardelli, Part 1 and Part 2
- CEO Job Under Construction at Home Depot
- Home Depot Abdicates Responsibility
- Home Depot Gets Religion
Go back to the beginning to see what other retail stocks are in the running for our CAPS contest.
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