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Louisiana-Pacific Is Outperforming the Housing Recovery

Richard Saintvilus

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Shares of Louisiana-Pacific have traded down as much as 4% following the release of the company's fiscal first-quarter earnings report, although they've since rebounded a bit.

Although I didn't give the home-building giant a glowing endorsement due to management's downbeat outlook following LPX's fourth-quarter report, I'm nonetheless surprised by the Street's reaction to what was actually a better-than-expected quarter.

Revenue surged 49% year over year to $538 million, while also advancing 17% sequentially. It's hard to be disappointed by these numbers. In fact, in my earnings-preview article where I discussed LPX's performance expectations when compared to Weyerhaeuser , I said the following:

Weyerhaeuser just posted strong first-quarter results, which included revenue growth of 31%, following 25% revenue growth in the fourth quarter. Louisiana-Pacific should (at least) post revenue growth in the mid-to-high 40% area. Relative to Weyerhaeuser, anything less than 40% sales growth would be a disappointment.

Clearly, management deserves credit here, while at the same time this affirms my prior belief that perhaps management underestimated the strength of the housing recovery or, for that matter, their own talent.

In that regard, Louisiana-Pacific's CEO, Curt Stevens said:

"LP's strong financial results were driven by a broad recovery of building activity across all regions of the U.S., which led to improved demand for our products and increased Oriented Strand Board pricing."

Profitability was also solid. The company earned $65 million, or 45 cents per share, which reverses a year-ago loss of $11 million. What's more, the $65 million represents a sequential improvement of 32%.

Still, the Street didn't seem impressed by these results. But when digging further, it underscores what a strong performance this was. For instance, in the prior article, when comparing LP to Weyerhaeuser's first-quarter profitability, I said the following:

Profitability, however, is a different animal, given that companies don't often share the same focus in terms of margins and expenses. That said, both LP and Weyerhaeuser have posted identical fourth-quarter margins of 21%, which arrived flat for Weyerhaeuser in the first quarter. Essentially, if LP's margins arrive below 21%, the stock will likely get hammered...

Management exceeded these expectation and more, as gross margin surged to 27%. Remarkably, this is despite the 9% sequential climb in expenses. Likewise, adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) from continuing operations arrived strong to $121 million, up from $21 million posted last year.

However, as with the fourth quarter, management offered no specific guidance other than to say the company is committed to meeting customer demand.

If there were any doubt about the housing recovery and its durability, Louisiana-Pacific's strong results should put these concerns to rest. New housing construction is improving. You can see it at Weyerhaeuser and in the are signs that Lowe's and Home Depot have begun to see an increase in foot traffic.

That said, it remains a challenge to value Louisiana-Pacific from an investment point of view. Given how quickly the company was able to reverse a $11 million loss from the a year ago and the six-point sequential jump in gross margin, this is a company that is picking up momentum even as it appears the stock has lost steam.

On the basis of the first-quarter performance, this stock is worth at least 20% higher than current value. Investors who are looking for a great way to play the housing recovery should consider Louisiana-Pacific.

At the time of publication, the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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