(Adds market share data, CEO comment, real estate market data)
By Dhanya Skariachan
Nov 20 Lowe's Cos Inc reported slightly
lower-than-expected quarterly earnings and gave a disappointing fiscal-year
outlook, underscoring the No. 2 home improvement retailer's struggle to catch up
with market leader Home Depot.
Wednesday's news came the day after strong results from Home Depot Inc
, which increased its forecast for the year for the third time in three
quarters as rising housing prices encouraged more people to invest in their
Lowe's results also made some analysts wonder if rising interest rates would
take some steam out of the recent housing market rebound that has encouraged
homeowners to take up more expensive remodeling projects.
"In addition to missing earnings-per-share estimates, interest rates are
rising and housing is slowing, calling into question continued outperformance in
this space in 2014," Janney Capital Markets analyst David Strasser said.
A report from the National Association of Realtors on Wednesday showed sales
of existing homes fell 3.2 percent in October. The median price of a previously
owned home rose 12.8 percent from a year ago.
Lowe's shares were down 5.1 percent at $47.85 on the New York Stock
Exchange, while Home Depot fell 0.5 percent to $80.01.
On a conference call, Lowe's executives said discretionary spending on
larger home projects was still far below pre-recession peaks. They also said
competition in the appliance market had eaten into the company's gross margin.
Even though Lowe's issued an outlook below analysts' estimates, Chief
Executive Officer Robert Niblock said the home improvement industry was poised
for growth this quarter and for "further acceleration" in the next fiscal year.
In an interview, Niblock said the company had not seen interest rates
hurting the recovery in home improvement sales so far.
Lowe's, once a Wall Street darling, is not just a victim of the vagaries in
the housing market. It was slower than Home Depot to cut costs during the most
recent U.S. recession.
Some analysts also say Home Depot will continue to outperform Lowe's on the
sales front for a while, in part because it derives much more revenue from the
key contractor and professional customer group.
These customers account for 35 percent of Home Depot's sales, compared with
25 percent at Lowe's. Some analysts say it is hard to close that gap quickly
because Home Depot has more stores than Lowe's in major metropolitan areas,
where many of the professional contractors are based.
FIGHT FOR MARKET SHARE
Sales at Lowe's stores open at least a year rose 6.2 percent in the third
quarter ended Nov. 1. It was the 18th straight quarter that the company posted
weaker same-store sales than Home Depot.
At the end of 2012, Home Depot had 18.7 percent of the U.S. home improvement
market, while Lowe's had 15.2 percent, data from Euromonitor International
showed. The research firm expects Home Depot to have a 19.2 percent share and
Lowe's to have 15.6 percent by the end of this year.
In recent years, Home Depot has benefited from efforts to improve customer
service and win shoppers with more compelling prices than its rivals. It has
tailored its marketing to local areas, centralized distribution centers and
shifted more workers to jobs where they serve shoppers directly.
After losing share to Home Depot for several quarters, Lowe's laid out a
turnaround plan, offering everyday low prices and products targeted to specific
Lowe's also made its stores more appealing with improved signs, television
displays that stream videos on how-to-do projects, and lower racks to make items
easier to reach.
For the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, Lowe's raised its earnings forecast to
about $2.15 a share from $2.10. However, the new outlook fell short of the
analysts' average estimate of $2.19, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The retailer also increased its outlook for sales growth for the year to
about 6 percent from 5 percent.
Net earnings in the third quarter rose to $499 million, or 47 cents a share,
from $396 million, or 35 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts were expecting
48 cents a share.
Sales increased 7.3 percent to $12.96 billion, topping the analysts' average
estimate of $12.72 billion.
(Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)