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TSC Ratings' Updates: Marathon Oil

TSC Ratings provides exclusive stock, ETF and mutual fund ratings and commentary based on award-winning, proprietary tools. Its "safety first" approach to investing aims to reduce risk while seeking solid outperformance on a total return basis.

The following ratings changes were generated on Tuesday, June 9.

We've upgraded Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated (COKE) from hold to buy, driven by its compelling growth in net income, notable return on equity, good cash flow from operations, expanding profit margins and solid stock price performance. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had generally poor debt management on most measures that we evaluated.

Net income increased to $8.53 from -$4.3 million in the same quarter a year ago, outperforming the S&P 500 and the beverages industry. Return on equity also greatly increased, a signal of significant strength within the corporation. Net operating cash flow rose 110.6% to $1.7 million, and the gross profit margin of 48.3% also increased compared with the year-ago quarter. The net profit margin of 2.5%, however, trails the industry average.

Shares have risen over the past year, outperforming the S&P 500. Although other factors naturally played a role, the company's strong earnings growth was key. Looking ahead, the stock's rise over the last year has already helped drive it to a level which is relatively expensive compared to the rest of its industry. We feel, however, that the other strengths this company displays justify these higher price levels.

We've upgraded First Mercury Financial (FMR) from sell to hold. Strengths include the company's robust revenue growth, largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures and growth in earnings per share. However, we also find weaknesses including poor profit margins and weak operating cash flow.

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