HD vs. LOW, a tale of the Q4 tape

For the 19th straight quarter Home Depot's total company comparable-store sales beat those of Lowe's. But the contest is getting closer.

The No. 1 and No. 2 home improvement retail companies posted quarterly financial reports one day apart from each other. Home Depot's fourth quarter comp-store sales of 4.4% was a mere half a percentage point ahead of its rival in the category considered to be the best gauge of the health of a retailer. As the chart below shows, the gap is narrowing.

In other fourth-quarter metrics, Home Depot -- operating with one less week in its 2013 fourth quarter calendar than it had in the previous year -- posted bigger numbers than Lowe's but smaller percentage increases. Depot's sales slipped 3.0% to $17.7 billion, while Lowe's gained 5.6% to $11.7 billion.

In the net income category, Depot cleared more than a billion dollars in quarterly net income ($1.01 billion) for the fifth straight quarter. Earnings were down slightly from $1.02 billion in the 13-week quarter a year ago.

Lowe's increased to $306 million in quarterly net income, up 6.3% from the year-ago period.

At the end of the year, the score count scoreboard showed Home Depot 2263, Lowe's 1,832.