November 21, 2012 / 6:45 PM / in 5 years

TEXT - Fitch affirms Home Depot ratings

Nov 21 - Fitch Ratings has affirmed its long-term Issuer Default Rating
(IDR) on The Home Depot, Inc. at 'A-', and its short-term IDR at 
'F2'.  The Rating Outlook is Stable. Home Depot had $10.8 billion of debt 
outstanding as of Oct. 28, 2012. A full rating list is shown below.  

The affirmation reflects Home Depot's solid operating momentum, strong free cash
flow, and public statements that it has a maximum leverage target of 2x. The 
ratings also consider Home Depot's leading position in the home improvement 
retail sector in North America as well as the challenges posed by a slow 
recovery by the housing market and persistently high unemployment.  

Home Depot has been able to generate positive operating momentum in the midst of
a home improvement industry that has seen consumers focus on repair and 
maintenance projects while avoiding more complex projects. Sales to pros, which 
are more indicative of the housing market, make up approximately 35% of its 
sales, and could support improved sales growth as the housing market recovers. 
Despite industry headwinds, Fitch currently projects U.S. home improvement 
spending to increase 4.5% in 2012 and 4.0% in 2013.  

Home Depot's comparable store sales have been positive for ten of the past 
eleven quarters, following four years of negative comps.  Total sales growth is 
expected to be approximately 5% in 2012 (on a 53 week basis) and in the positive
low single digits in 2013-2014, in-line with the overall market. 

Home Depot has produced a strong margin recovery over the past two years, with 
EBIT margins improving to 10.7% in the twelve months ending Oct. 29, 2012, from 
9.5% in the comparable period in 2011 driven by a combination of gross margin 
improvement and strong expense management. Fitch sees moderate additional margin
upside made possible by the investments Home Depot is making in its technology 
and supply chain, and thinks the company can achieve a 12% EBIT margin by 2015. 

Home Depot plans to build only 8-10 new stores per year over the coming few 
years, to be focused primarily in Mexico.  Low levels of capital expenditures 
have resulted in strong free cash flow after dividends (FCF), which is expected 
to track around $3-4 billion annually going forward as capital expenditures 
remain at less than 2% of sales.  

FCF, and some incremental borrowings, will be directed to share repurchases, as 
the company manages its financial leverage (adjusted debt/EBITDAR) at or under 
2.0 times (x).  

Home Depot has a solid liquidity position supported by a seasonally strong cash 
balance of $2.5 billion at Oct. 29, 2012, together with an undrawn $2.0 billion 
credit facility. The company also benefits from its 89% store base ownership. 
The next major debt maturity is a $1.3 billion note coming due in December 2013,
which Fitch expects will be refinanced. 

What Would Lead To Consideration of a Negative Rating Action

Weaker operating trends or a move by management to more shareholder friendly 
policies that increase adjusted leverage to the mid 2x range could lead to a 
negative rating action.

What Would Lead To Consideration of a Positive Rating Action

Continued positive operating trends together with a sustained reduction in 
adjusted leverage to below 1.5x, could lead to a positive rating action.

Fitch has affirmed the following ratings on Home Depot: 

--Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at 'A-'; 
--Senior unsecured notes at 'A-';
--Bank credit facilities at 'A-';
--Short-term IDR at 'F2';
--Commercial paper at 'F2'. 
The Rating Outlook is Stable.

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