Oppenheimer analyst Scott Schneeberger downgraded H&R Block's stock to perform, from outperform, early Wednesday, citing a mortgage put-back overhang that carries potential headline risk for the tax preparer.
H&R Block shares dipped to a 52-week low of $11.98 early Wednesday, before rebounding somewhat to a gain of 0.6% forty minutes into trading, to $12.43.
The analyst also said the downgrade had to do with a lower fiscal 2011 earnings outlook on "significant" reinvestment of previously modeled cost cuts.Last week H&R Block posted better-than-expected quarterly results, and the firm said it did not have to add to its reserves set aside for claims related to its former mortgage business, easing investor concerns. CEO Allen Bennett said on a conference call with analysts that while investors seem to be concerned about the company's contingent loan repurchase obligations, that "seems to be subject to some speculation that is not based on fact." "We made no change to our aggregate reserve this quarter," Bennett continued. "Recent market speculation regarding potential losses does not relate back to any facts that we have observed. We have not seen any adverse change in our level of claimed payments." H&R Block set aside $243 million in the spring of 2008 for loan repurchases out of Option One. The company has not added to that level, Bennett said. "We believe our financial reserves here are adequate." Schneeberger noted at the time that "HRB had traded off this week on elevated volume on mortgage putback concerns," adding that "it recouped the week's losses on management addressing these concerns by providing incremental points of data."