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TSC Ratings' Stock Upgrades, Downgrades

Each business day, Ratings updates its ratings on the stocks it covers. The proprietary ratings model projects a stock's total return potential over a 12-month period, including both price appreciation and dividends. Buy, hold or sell ratings designate how the Ratings group expects these stocks to perform against a general benchmark of the equities market and interest rates.

While the ratings model is quantitative, it uses both subjective and objective elements. For instance, subjective elements include expected equities market returns, future interest rates, implied industry outlook and company earnings forecasts. Objective elements include volatility of past operating revenue, financial strength and company cash flows.

However, the rating does not incorporate all of the factors that can alter a stock's performance. For example, it doesn't always factor in recent corporate or industry events that could affect the stock price, nor does it include recent technology developments and competitive dynamics that may affect the company.

For those reasons, we believe a rating alone cannot tell the whole story, and that it should be part of an investor's overall research.

The following ratings changes were generated on April 9.

Darden Restaurants (DRI), which operates casual dining restaurants including Red Lobster and Olive Garden, has been upgraded to buy. For the third quarter of 2007, revenue rose 25% year over year to $1.81 billion, and earnings per share improved to 80 cents from 79 cents. This year, the market expects an improvement in full-year EPS to $2.74 from $2.53 last year. Net income increased 18% to $126.0 million in the same period. Net operating cash flow has increased 15% to $315.4 million from the year-ago quarter. With a price-to-earnings ratio of 13.60, the stock trades at a substantial discount to its industry peers. Darden Restaurants had been rated hold since Jan. 8.

Double Eagle Petroleum (DBLE), which explores for, develops, produces and sells crude oil and natural gas, has been upgraded to hold. Strengths such as a solid financial position are balanced by deteriorating net income, disappointing return on equity and poor profit margins.

The company has no debt to speak, which we consider a favorable sign, and its quick ratio of 2.21 demonstrates an ability to cover short-term liquidity needs. For the third quarter of 2007, revenue dropped 8.3% year over year to $4.1 million, and earnings per share swung to a loss of 62 cents from a profit of 4 cents. This year, the market expects an improvement in full-year EPS to 27 cents vs. 24 cents in the prior year. The gross profit margin is extremely low at 14% and significantly trails the industry average. The company also has negative net operating cash flow of $2.04 million. Double Eagle Petroleum had been rated sell since Nov. 13.

Littlefuse (LFUS), a maker of circuit protection and electrical fuses, has been upgraded to buy. For the fourth quarter, earnings per share rose to 36 cents from 21 cents a year ago. For 2008, the market expects an improvement in full-year EPS to $1.85 from $1.65 in 2007. Revenue increased 5.6% year over year to $135 million. The company's debt-to-equity ratio is very low at 0.04, implying successful management of debt levels. Its quick ratio of 1.56 demonstrates an ability to cover short-term liquidity needs.

At 37%, the gross profit margin is strong, and the net profit margin of 5.9% exceeds the industry average. Net operating cash flow has increased to $28.7 for the fourth quarter. Despite an increase in cash flow of 7.97%, the company is still growing at a significantly lower rate than the industry average. Littlefuse had been rated hold since Feb. 5.

Univest Corp. of Pennsylvania (UVSP), a holding company for Univest National Bank and Trust, has been upgraded to buy. For the fourth quarter, revenue increased 3.5% year over year to $35.7 million, and earnings per share remained flat at 51 cents. Net operating cash flow has increased 34% to $10.2 million. The company is nonetheless growing at a significantly lower rate than the industry average. Its gross profit margin is rather high at 60%, and the net profit margin of 18% compares favorably to the industry average. Univest had been rated hold since April 20, 2007.

WCA Waste (WCAA), a provider of non-hazardous solid waste collection services, has been downgraded to sell. For the fourth quarter, net income swung to a loss of $1.5 million from a profit of $1.29 million a year ago. The debt-to-equity ratio of 1.19 is high, and the quick ratio of 0.75 is poor. The company's return on equity has decreased year over year to a loss of 0.6%. This implies a minor weakness in the organization. Gross profit margin is lower than desirable at 30%, and a negative 3.1% net profit margin trails the industry average. WCA Waste had been rated hold since Dec. 11, 2006.

Additional ratings changes from April 9 are listed below.

Ticker Company Name Change New Rating Former Rating
WYY WIDEPOINT CORP Downgrade Sell Hold
WCAA WCA WASTE CORP Downgrade Sell Hold

This article was written by a staff member of Ratings.

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