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Time for Lowe's to Improve

Stocks in this article: LOW HD WMT WY LPX

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Unlike the battles in overcrowded retail segments such as groceries and apparel, the space among the home improvement retailers is occupied by only two giants: Home Depot (HD) and Lowe's (LOW).

While this duopoly makes for an interesting rivalry, the debate regarding which of the two is the best is no longer as compelling -- It's clearly Home Depot. With each passing quarter this domestic battle looks more and more one-sided.

However, this was not always the case. I do believe Lowe's has the management in place to fix its merchandising and cost management deficits. But for the stock to work in the long term, the company must adhere to its own slogan and "never stop improving."

It's hard to look at the relative performance of both companies and not marvel at the distinct operational metrics. In the most recent quarter, Lowe's posted both earnings and revenue that missed Street estimates, while the company blamed the softer sales on the weather.

The company posted revenue of $13.1 billion, which -- if being generous -- was flat year over year to slightly down (less than 1%). It was still a miss, nonetheless. Analysts were looking for revenue of $13.45 billion. Same-store sales, or comps, which is the metric that tracks stores that have been open at least one year, declined by 70 basis points.

Given the tough macro climate that has affected other retailers including Wal-Mart (WMT), which posted 1.4% drop in U.S. comps, Lowe's struggles with same-store sales was not much of a surprise. But what does it say that Home Depot posted comp growth of 4.3%?

It says a lot of things. First and foremost, it says the adverse weather had little impact on Home Depot's store traffic, which helped the company post revenue growth of 7%. I'm not trying to pick on Lowe's here, but this contrast in performance has spanned more than just this quarter and several weather changes -- it's been at least one year.

I would have much preferred Lowe's offer no explanation at all for its shortcomings than to have blamed the weather.

What's also troubling here is that it doesn't appear as if Lowe's is participating much in what many experts are considering moderate-to-better housing recovery.

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