(Monsanto story updated with further analyst commentary.)
NEW YORK (
) -- According to the prevailing wisdom on Wall Street,
(MON - Get Report)
has moved in the right direction as it strives to revive itself after an ugly debut for its crucial new bioengineered corn in 2010.
Last year, after a rebellion among its farmer-customers forced the company to cut prices for its latest test-tube maize, Monsanto had to repeal the ambitious growth goals it had set for the next three years. Its stock fell 20% in 2010.
With the dawn of a fresh year, investors appear to have put much of that bad news behind them. Monsanto's efforts to right itself are only a small part of the reason, of course. An unprecedented farm boom, driven by inflating agricultural commodities prices the world over, has lifted Monsanto stock out of its doldrums. Since bottoming out near $48 in October, shares of the St. Louis company have gained 40% and touched a 52-week high of about $77 on Feb. 2. Midday Thursday on the
New York Stock Exchange
, they were trading at $70.25.
Many sell-side analysts are bullish on Monsanto. Of the 22 who cover the controversial crop-seed and chemicals giant, nine have the equivalent of buy ratings on the stock, while 12 maintain hold or neutral ratings.
The latter group includes Horst Huenikin, of Stifel Nicolaus in Toronto, who feels the Monsanto stock has too ripe a multiple at the moment, having reached a P/E ratio of 23, based on the company's guidance for calendar 2011 earnings. "That number is fair, but it's certainly not undervalued," he said. "On the other hand, it's not so extreme to tell people to dump the stock either."
And then there's the analyst who does have a "sell" rating on Monsanto -- the outlier uber-bear and constant contrarian who has had a negative view of the company for nearly two years.
His name is Paul Christopherson, and he works for
, the small New Jersey broker-dealer perhaps best known as the place where a young
Jim Chanos cut his teeth
as a short seller.
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Though Christopherson doesn't advise shorting Monsanto's stock, the idea implicit in his negative recommendation is, theoretically, to do just that -- a trade that would take some blue-ribbon cajones, or a severe bout of madness, here amid one of the greatest agricultural booms of all time. Not many have been that brave or that crazy: as of Feb. 15, short sellers commanded only 1% of Monsanto's float.
As Christopherson wrote in his latest Monsanto missive, released earlier this week, "In the near term, Monsanto will benefit greatly from the recent reflation of what is, in this analyst's opinion, a commodities bubble, especially in corn and soybeans."
With market momentum in commodities squarely to the upside, "that's my only hesitation about being short," he said in an interview.