Home Depot considers selling supply division

ATLANTA - The Home Depot Inc., the world's largest home improvement store chain, distanced itself further from the strategies advanced by former Chief Executive Bob Nardelli as it said Monday it will consider shedding its division serving contractors, homebuilders and other business customers.

Its shares rose on the news.

Some analysts said the decision to possibly sell Home Depot Supply could benefit the company by allowing it to focus on generating value for shareholders, while others suggested it could put the onus back on the company's retail side, where it faces tough competition from Lowe's.

The announcement followed a decision earlier this month by the Atlanta-based company to give a seat on its board to an investment group that wants Home Depot to consider, among other things, a leveraged buyout of the entire company as a way to generate shareholder value.

The group, Relational Investors LLC, had threatened a proxy fight over the home-improvement company's strategic direction, part of an undercurrent that led to Nardelli's resignation in early January after six years at the helm of the company.

Frank Blake, who replaced Nardelli as CEO, said Monday's announcement regarding Home Depot Supply was part of a strategic review the company conducted in November.

Nardelli had said repeatedly that he believed the company's strategy under his watch did not need changing.

Home Depot said it may sell or spin off its wholesale distribution arm, Home Depot Supply.

Blake said the company wants to concentrate more on its retail business.

The company said it would ''evaluate strategic alternatives'' that could also include an initial public offering of the supply business. Home Depot did not say how much it could fetch for HD Supply, but some analysts valued it at between $5 billion and $7.5 billion.

Analysts had mixed reactions.

''While we had long been advocates of the HD Supply business, the market never seemed to warm up to the strategy, viewing it more as a lower margin, lower return distraction from retail,'' David Strasser, an analyst with Banc of America Securities, said in a research note.