"It's tough when you're always being compared to the Patriots."
That's the title of Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom's latest note on Lowe's Companies, Inc. (LOW) , which posted better-than-expected third quarter earnings Tuesday morning, Nov. 21.
Lowe's posted same-store sales growth of 5.7% and earnings of $1.05 per share, both exceeding Wall Street forecasts but falls short of Home Depot Inc.'s (HD) results. The latter reported a 7.9% increase in comp sales and $1.84 in EPS.
But comparing Lowe's to Home Depot, Grom writes, is like comparing "almost every NFL franchise" to the Patriots' dream team of quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. "We still like Home Depot more," he said in his note, "but LOW deserves a little more credit than it's receiving." And that's not to mention, Lowe's beat Home Depot in online comp growth.
Still, it's hard for Wall Street to resist the comparisons. BMO Capital Markets' Wayne Hood was quick to point out that the same store sales gap between Lowe's and Home Depot widened this quarter compared to Q2, in which Lowe's posted 4.5% growth to its competitors' 6.3%.
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Like Home Depot, Lowe's benefited from effects of the hurricanes in late August and early September. Following the mass destruction, customers bought lumber and building materials, as well as products for hurricane prep before the storms hit, according to CEO Robert Niblock. Lowe's commercial service, Lowe's ProServices, drove much of the hurricane-related growth, company execs said.
Appliances also saw double-digit comps, he said, boosted by online offerings. E-commerce sales saw an increase of 33% in comp growth -- that's higher than Home Depot's 19%. Products purchased online are supported by Lowe's in-house delivery capabilities and third parties, but it plans to open its first direct fulfillment center next year in Nashville.
"When I think about the categories that continue to perform well, appliances, fashion fixtures and seasonal outdoor living led the way as it relates to our online performance," Niblock said in the earnings call.
"So the team's done a great job, bringing that experience to life and connecting it to our overall omnichannel platform and driving additional traffic into our stores," he added.
Lowe's announced as part of its earnings release that Chief Operating Officer Rick Damron will be retiring and Richard Maltsbarger, now the chief development officer, will take his place. This move points to an appetite for change and growth from the board, Hood noted.
"Absent more information, the change implies to us that management has not been fully satisfied with the execution of the company's strategic initiatives," he wrote.
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