Lowe's same-store sales surge 11.2% as coronavirus restrictions spark home improvement spending

Key Points
  • For the first quarter ended May 1, Lowe's reported a beat on earnings and revenue as Americans stayed at home and invested in improving their homes. 
  • Lowe's was able to keep its stores open because they were deemed essential as the coronavirus pandemic hit the spring season, the home improvement industry's busiest time of year. 
  • "I am also pleased with our ability to pivot to serve increased online demand with sales increasing 80% in the quarter," CEO Marvin Ellison said in a statement.
Lowe's same-store sales rose 11.2% in first quarter
Lowe's same-store sales rose 11.2% in first quarter

Lowe's reported same-store sales growth of more than 11% for the first quarter as Americans stayed home and invested in spring-time home improvement projects, but investor excitement fizzled as the company warned sales could "moderate" later in the year.

The company benefited in the quarter from the home improvement industry's busiest time of the year, spring, and sales remained high through the beginning of May, the company said. But CEO Marvin Ellison cautioned that such high sales growth will not likely be sustained through the year. 

"We don't anticipate we're going to see negative comps, but we do anticipate that we're going to see sales start to moderate at some point in the latter part of this quarter and the back half of this year," he said on a conference call with investors. He added that he is confident in Lowe's performance through any potential coronavirus-induced economic downturn because homeowners will continue to invest in their houses.

"This is not a housing recession," he said, comparing the current economic climate to the 2008 recession. "This is obviously different. We're seeing still sustained strength from our homeowners because they're sheltering in place and they're finding those projects around the house."

Share prices rose more than 7% during premarket trading, but shed gains throughout the day, closing up just 0.1%.

The company said it saw an 80% pop in online sales as capacity was limited at brick-and-mortar stores and the company rolled out curbside pickup to accommodate online customers and local virus restrictions. Ellison added that the website saw "triple digit growth in April."

" will only get better for the balance of the year," he said, adding that month-to-date growth of online sales has remained in the triple digits.

Both Lowe's do-it-yourself and pro customers proved "surprisingly resilient" in the first quarter, Ellison said. He said the company saw sales jump in cleaning supplies and appliances like refrigerators as well as materials used for DIY projects such as paint. However, sales of heavy indoor installation equipment slumped, including for kitchen and bath as people were "reluctant to invite people into their homes."

He added that demand reflected "the to-do list that customers hadn't tackled due to their busy schedule."

Most of Lowe's pro customers are of the smaller "pick-up truck pro" category as opposed to larger, industrial professionals, Ellison said. He added that the former has been less affected by coronavirus restrictions and continues to operate, which benefits Lowe's.

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

  • Earnings per share: $1.77, adjusted vs. $1.32 expected
  • Revenue: $19.68 billion vs. $18.32 billion expected
  • Same-store sales: up 11.2% vs. 3.3% expected

For the first quarter ended May 1, Lowe's reported that net income rose 27.6% to $1.34 billion, or $1.76 per share, compared to earnings of $1.05 billion, or $1.31 per share, a year ago. Excluding items, the company earned $1.77 per share, outpacing analyst expectations of $1.32 per share.

Revenue rose 10.9% to $19.68 billion, up from $17.74 billion a year ago.

However, it's difficult to compare reported earnings with analyst estimates for the first quarter because the coronavirus pandemic has changed customers' shopping patterns and added additional labor and safety costs for companies.

The company also announced it is withdrawing its full-year 2020 guidance due to uncertainty related to the coronavirus pandemic.

"All in, we believe today's impressive results amidst challenging conditions reflect continued progress on LOW initiatives as well as favorable DIY/Pro mix, category concentration (Appliance, Lawn & Garden, Paint) and a less COVID-­impacted geographic exposure (more rural vs. HD)," Fadem said.

Fadem added that the "strong" results support Lowe's stock gains Wednesday. Lowe's shares have underperformed Home Depot's stock by 1,150 basis points year to date, and trade at a lower multiple to earnings.

"We see room for considerable re­rating in the days ahead," he said. 

The coronavirus hit as the home improvement retailer has been attempting to revive its business under CEO Marvin Ellison, who assumed the role in 2018. Lowe's has been trying to build out its e-commerce platform and attract more professional homebuilders and contractors as opposed to do-it-yourself customers.

Lowe's said it has taken steps to firm up its financial position, which remains strong. The company said it raised $4 billion in debt and increased its revolving credit capacity by $770 million. It said it has $6 billion in cash and cash equivalents as well as $3 billion in undrawn revolving credit as of April 15.

The company also said it repurchased 9.6 million shares for $947 million in the quarter and paid $420 million in dividends, but added that it has suspended its shares buyback program and does not anticipate to repurchase more shares for the rest of the year.

Lowe's was able to keep its stores open because they were deemed essential as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered retailers across the country for much of spring, the home improvement industry's busiest time of year. 

The company incurred increased costs due to social distancing at its stores and keeping employees coming in. It reduced store hours by three hours every day, increased regular cleaning and increased employee wages and benefits. The company also said it hired 100,000 seasonal employees to handle the spring bump.

The company's stock bottomed in the first quarter at a closing price of $65.02 on March 18 just as state-by-state restrictions were rolling out across the country. However, the stock has bounced back, trading above $110 per share in recent days, bringing its market cap to more than $88 billion.

Lowe's reported earnings a day after Home Depot reported a mixed first quarter. Home Depot's sales beat expectations as Americans stayed home due to Covid-19 restrictions and invested in home improvement. However, the company's increased revenue was offset by ballooning costs from boosting workers' pay and benefits.

Home Depot leads in the space, boasting 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.

Read Lowe's press release here.