Lowe's fourth-quarter sales, outlook for fiscal 2020 fall short of estimates

Key Points
  • Lowe's, which is undergoing a turnaround led by CEO Marvin Ellison, missed expectations for same-store sales and revenue.
  • The retailer is revamping its website and focusing on home improvement professionals as part of its transformation.
People walk outside a Lowe's store in East Peoria, Ill.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Lowe's on Wednesday reported mixed fourth-quarter results, with sales weaker than expected, and provided a disappointing forecast.

Share prices rose 1.4% in premarket trading.

Here's what Lowe's reported compared with what Wall Street was expecting, based on a survey of analysts by Refinitiv:

  • Earnings per share: 94 cents, adjusted vs. 91 cents expected
  • Revenue: $16.03 billion vs. $16.15 billion expected
  • Same-store sales: up 2.5% vs. 3.6% expected

The home improvement retailer is attempting to revive its business under Chief Executive Marvin Ellison, who stepped into the role in 2018. As part of the transformation, Lowe's is focused on expanding e-commerce and attracting more professional homebuilders and contractors. It's also trying to capitalize on existing strengths, such as speeding up appliance deliveries since it's one of the country's top appliance retailers.

In the fourth quarter ended Jan. 31, Lowe's reported net income of $509 million, or 66 cents per share, compared with a loss of $824 million, or $1.03 per share, a year ago.

Excluding items, the company earned 94 cents per share, outpacing analyst estimates of 91 cents per share from Refinitiv.

Revenue rose to $16.03 billion from $15.65 billion a year ago but was less than the $16.15 billion analysts had forecasted.

Same-store sales grew by 2.5%, far was below the 3.6% analysts were predicting.

In an earnings call, Ellison said the company is making strides with its turnaround but has more work to do. He said its outdated website has held back the business since so many customers research online.

"If you have limitations online, not only does it hurt your dotcom sales," he said. "It actually hurts your brick-and-mortar sales because it limits the amount of traffic where people will show up after having quality efficient research and decide to buy."

He expects that the company will see a bump in online sales as it completes the redesign of the website. Lowe's forecast calls for online sales to reach "high single-digit growth" in the second half of the year.

Lowe's is also rolling out a nationwide loyalty program this year to grow its sales among professional contractors, a business that Home Depot has traditionally dominated.

Ellison said a stronger pro business will make the company's performance more stable and consistent.

"In home improvement, if you don't have a healthy pro business, you really become the victim of weather patterns," he said. "You become the victim a lot of different things that drive normal retail traffic patterns. But irrespective of the weather outside, pros have to work."

Ellison touted the company's "strong expense management." Lowe's recently shut 34 underperforming stores in Canada and finished shuttering its Mexico business.

Lowe's reported earnings a day after rival Home Depot reported a fourth quarter that beat analysts' estimates. Home Depot said its sales benefited from a healthy housing market and a confident consumer and were fueled by a strong holiday season. Home Depot is the larger retailer in the home improvement space. It has a bigger customer base of professional contractors and a growing e-commerce business.

Like Lowe's, Home Depot has been making improvements to its stores and website. Home Depot is investing $11 billion over three years, a decision that's put pressure on its margins.

Home Depot has grown in its online business, as Lowe's lags behind and overhauls its website. Home Depot's online sales grew nearly 21% in the fiscal fourth quarter and for 2019, when adjusted for the shorter calendar year.

Lowe's did not break out its online sales. In the news release, Ellison said nearly all of Lowe's sales growth in the fourth quarter came from its brick-and-mortar stores, but he said the company has "a detailed road map in place to modernize our e-commerce platform."

Neil Saunders, managing director of consulting company GlobalData's retail division, said in an email that Home Depot's performance "takes some of the luster off the numbers" for Lowe's.

To lift sales, he said Lowe's needs to win new customers from Home Depot and other stores, step up its seasonal offerings and quickly catch up with the digital side of the business. He commended some of the company's changes, including adding a permanently staffed desk and dedicated parking spaces for professional contractors.

But he said Lowe's turnaround will take time.

"It is working hard to remedy weaknesses in its business model and has a coherent plan to be a more effective player," he wrote in the email. "However, it is also clear that the transformation will take at least another year and a bit before it fully delivers."

Lowe's said it expects to have sales growth of 2.5% to 3% and same-store sales growth of 3% to 3.5% in fiscal 2020.

It forecast that earnings will be $6.45 to $6.65 per share in fiscal 2020 on an adjusted basis. According to Refinitiv, analysts were expecting the retailer to earn $6.34 to $6.92 per share.

Along with efforts to revamp its online business, Lowe's named Marisa Thalberg its new chief brand and marketing officer in January. Thalberg, previously global chief brand officer at Taco Bell, reports directly to Ellison.

Lowe's plans to hire more than 53,000 full-time and part-time employees for the spring, which is the busiest season for home improvement projects.

Read Lowe's press release here.

Lowe's Q4 same-store sales: 2.5% increase vs 3.6% expected