Each weekday, TheStreet.com 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.
The Commerce Group
, an insurance company, has been downgraded to a hold. The company maintains a largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures, notable return on equity and a solid stock price performance.
However, the Commerce Group is also dealing with deteriorating net income, poor profit margins and feeble EPS growth. Third-quarter net earnings totaled $55.5 million, or 88 cents a share, compared with net earnings of $56.5 million, or 83 cents a share, a year ago. The most recent quarter includes net realized investment losses of $3.2 million, or 3 cents a share.
Spain's MAPFRE recently agreed to buy the Webster, Mass., insurer for $2.21 billion in cash (1.54 billion euros), or $36.70 a share. The Commerce Group had been rated a buy since November 2005.
, a data service provider, has been downgraded to a sell. The company's weaknesses can be seen in several areas, such as its generally disappointing historical stock performance and premium valuation.
The company swung to a third-quarter profit of $2.8 million, or 4 cents a share, compared with a net loss of $3.1 million, or 16 cents a share, a year ago. Excluding charges, Riverbed would have earned $12.4 million, or 17 cents a share.
The company recently closed at a price level not very different from a year ago. Looking ahead, other than the push or pull of the broad market, there does not seem to be anything in the company's numbers that may help reverse the decline experienced over the past 12 months. Despite the past decline, the stock is still selling for more than most others in its industry. Riverbed Technology was initiated with a hold rating in October.
, which provides government consulting services, has been upgraded to a buy. The company maintains a largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures, a solid stock price performance, EPS growth and an increase in net income. These strengths are expected to outweigh the company's somewhat disappointing return on equity.
Fourth-quarter profit totaled $14.2 million, or 63 cents a share, up from $2 million, or 9 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue rose 18% over a year ago to $201.9 million. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently, but it seems poised for EPS growth in the coming year.
Powered by strong earnings growth and other factors, this stock has surged 40.52% over the past year. While any stock can fall in a major bear market, in almost any other environment, this stock should continue to move higher. Maximus had been rated a hold since June 2006.
has been downgraded to a hold. While the company has seen revenue growth and expanding profit margins, it has also been marked by a generally disappointing stock performance, deteriorating net income and weak operating cash flow.
Third-quarter earnings slipped 5% to $199.2 million, or $1.83 a share. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently and it is likely to report a decline in earnings in the coming year. M&T Bank's stock is down 25.1% over the past 12 months.
Despite this decline, do not assume that it can now be tagged as cheap and attractive. The reality is that, based on its current price in relation to its earnings, the company's stock is still more expensive than most of the other companies in its industry. M&T Bank had been rated a buy since November 2005.
, a precious metals company, has been upgraded to a buy. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its largely solid financial position, compelling net income growth, notable return on equity, expanding profit margins and good cash flow from operations. While no company is perfect, TheStreet.com Ratings does not currently see any significant weaknesses that are likely to detract from the generally positive outlook.
Third-quarter net income applicable to common shareholders totaled $12.4 million, or 10 cents a share, up from $900,000, or one cent a share, a year ago. Net operating cash flow has significantly increased by 104.59% over a year ago to $22.61 million and the company has vastly surpassed the industry average cash flow growth rate of 37.27%. Hecla Mining had been rated a hold since August.
Additional ratings changes are listed below.