Lowe’s Cos. (LOW) climbed to an intraday record yesterday after Chief Executive Officer Robert Niblock said the strengthening housing market is helping sales recover from a cold spring that sapped demand for outdoor merchandise.
The second-largest U.S. home-improvement retailer reported first-quarter profit that trailed analysts’ estimates while maintaining its forecast for earnings this year. The shares fell in early trading as the performance lagged behind larger Home Depot Inc. before Niblock’s comments helped them rebound to a record $43.84. The shares slid 0.7 percent to $42.69 at the close today.
Lowe’s same-store sales slipped about 10 percent in March as the chill hurt purchases of flowers and fertilizer, then gained about 10 percent in April as the weather returned to normal and are “in that ballpark so far in May,” Niblock said yesterday on a conference call with analysts.
“As the weather broke, we saw good performance,” he said. “It added some comfort that the housing recovery provides some optimism out there.”
Net income in the quarter ended May 3 rose 2.5 percent to $540 million, or 49 cents a share, from $527 million, or 43 cents, a year earlier, the Mooresville, North Carolina-based company said in a statement. Analysts projected 51 cents, the average of 25 estimates in a Bloomberg survey.
Revenue fell 0.5 percent to $13.1 billion, trailing analysts’ $13.4 billion average estimate.
Still, Lowe’s reaffirmed its full-year forecast, projecting profit of $2.05 a share. Analysts estimated $2.09. The company also reiterated it expects revenue to rise about 4 percent and same-store sales to gain about 3.5 percent.
“There is a very positive wind behind the sailors who are sailing along with housing,” said William Smead, who oversees Home Depot shares among $470 million in assets as chief investment officer at Smead Capital Management in Seattle. He doesn’t own Lowe’s.
Niblock is playing catch-up to Home Depot, which moved faster to improve store operations as the housing market slumped and posted first-quarter profit and sales on May 21 that topped analysts’ estimates.
Lowe’s results “were certainly a letdown with Home Depot talking up the recovery in housing and construction,” Chris Bertelsen, who oversees about $2 billion including Lowe’s and Home Depot shares as chief investment officer at Global Financial Private Capital Inc. in Sarasota, Florida, said in a telephone interview.
Niblock, 50, said in an interview that he wasn’t using weather as an excuse for Lowe’s first-quarter performance. As for Home Depot, he said the Atlanta-based company operates twice as many stores as Lowe’s in California where weather wasn’t a negative factor, he said.
“It wasn’t that weather was any different on their side of their side of the street,” Niblock said by telephone. “It’s just where the weather patterns were.”
Lowe’s, which operates about 1,750 stores, had 110 outlets in California as of Feb. 1, according to its website. Home Depot had 232 in the state as of May 5, according to a Web posting. It has about 2,250 stores.
Home Depot operates more stores in the northeastern U.S. where repairs from Hurricane Sandy spurred demand for building materials, Niblock said. It also generates a larger percentage of sales from contractors and other professionals spending at a faster rate in the housing rebound than consumers, he said.
“The trends in pro are related to improvements in the housing market,” Scot Ciccarelli, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in New York, said in an interview. “As people feel a little bit wealthier and they have more equity in the house, they are more apt to invest in the home.”
Ciccarelli rates Lowe’s and Home Depot outperform, the equivalent of a buy.
Sales of previously owned U.S. homes increased 0.6 percent in April to an annual rate of 4.97 million, the most since November 2009, the National Association of Realtors reported yesterday in Washington. The median price rose 11 percent compared with April 2012, the fifth consecutive month that property values advanced more than 10 percent year over year.
Home Depot also reached an intraday record of $81.56 yesterday. The shares dropped 1 percent to $78.91 today.
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