Home disimprovement

Lowe's has a bad quarter. Why upgrade a home when you can't afford the mortgage?

By Andrew Leonard

Published February 20, 2009 3:12PM (EST)

In 2007, bad news about Home Depot's earnings was both an early sign of how the effects of the housing bust were rippling through the wider economy, and evidence that the giant home improvement retail chain was mismanaged and had made some bad financial bets. At the time, some readers were quick to suggest that Home Depot deserved its troubles.

Now Lowe's, the second-largest retail home improvement chain in the United States, has announced "a 60 percent decrease in fourth-quarter net income," reports the Wall Street Journal, and has "sharply cut its fiscal 2009 outlook, citing the prolonged downturn for the home-improvement industry."

Lowe's, in contrast to Home Depot, is generally regarded as a well-managed up-and-comer, nimbly taking advantage of Home Depot's missteps. And that may well continue. If and when the economy does start growing again, Lowe's will probably be in better shape to prosper than Home Depot. But right now, everybody, deserving or undeserving, is in trouble. As my father used to tell me when I started whining about some imaginary injustice, "As President John F. Kennedy liked to say, 'life is unfair.'"

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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