Did Office Depot Steal Staples’ Easy Button?

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Office Depot, Inc. (NYSE: ODP) keeps getting stealthy good news, while rival Staples Inc. (NASDAQ: SPLS) continues to linger. The last earnings report from Staples signaled that things might not be turning around as fast as investors would hope. Not so for Office Depot. This weekend’s Barron’s highlight is only one of the positive coverage catalysts that may lure turnaround investors back.

Barron’s wrote its tagline as:

Under new leadership, Office Depot has managed to turn a profit and still seems to have loads of opportunities to cut costs, Barron’s says. Is it the most attractive “value” stock in the market?

Again, this was just one of the data points that will help investors ease back into the name. We have seen several key analysts get behind Office Depot. We are not seeing the same for rival Staples.

At the end of May came a serious upgrade from Goldman Sachs. If investors like to see an upgrade from one firm, Goldman Sachs would have to be at the top of the list. Its upgrade was to Buy from Neutral, and the price target was $7 for the call.

Earlier in May the same sort of call was made by Credit Suisse. The firm raised Office Depot’s rating to Outperform from Neutral, also with a $7 price target for almost 45% implied upside at the firm. Credit Suisse’s analyst Gary Balter said:

We believe the (Office Depot) reward/risk is quite favorable at this time. While the company will be fighting a constant secular decline battle, in our view it is taking a very reasonable and low bar approach to its prospects by building in negative pre-synergy operating earnings into its guidance. That we argue leaves room for upside and with the stock trading at less than 3 times cash flow, we see the opportunity for outsized stock appreciation should management exceed its projections.

Office Depot shares closed at $5.20 on Friday, against a 52-week range of $3.77 to $5.85. Its consensus price target is now $6.13. This was an $8 stock back in 2010. Things got so bad that this was under $2.00 in 2012.

Over the past month, investors have driven Office Depot up more than 20%, while Staples is down about 10%. The analyst upgrades were following store closure plans after the OfficeMax and Office Depot merger. The Barron’s article technically does not change the situation, but it should only highlight what other turnaround investors have been betting on.

We cannot help but wonder if Office Depot stole the Easy Button from Staples.

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