wireless analyst Walt Piecyk's name is tough to pronounce, his bold prediction of a thousand-dollar
share by the end of next year may make his a household name.
Piecyk Wednesday morning left the ranks of the unknown, unranked analysts by boldly (or maybe not so boldly) predicting that Qualcomm, the wireless outfit that jumped 802% between late March and Tuesday, will hit $1,000 a share by the end of 2000. But in instantly nominating him for the analyst media elite, Piecyk's call also raises thorny questions about how Wall Street works and whose consumption ratings and price targets are intended for.
Don Your Rally Caps
What Piecyk did Wednesday is in itself not to be overlooked. He pushed Qualcomm stock up 156, or 31%, to 659, meaning it's now up some 2,400% for the year. He lit a rally that carried the
Nasdaq Composite Index
, itself up some 84% this year, past the long-awaited (it's been almost two months) 4000
barrier. He made his call two days before New Year's Eve, a time when the market typically is bereft of big news.
"You have to ask, is it the analyst trying to present new information, or is he trying to garner attention to make the call a self-fulfilling prophesy?" says Bill Singer, a New York securities attorney. "He's essentially saying the market is valuing this thing at half of what it should be."
"As a trader, you can't go to sleep Tuesday night with the stock at 500 and wake up Wednesday with it at 1,000 with no new information," Singer adds.
Piecyk was dealing with clients today, according to a PaineWebber spokeswoman, and didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.
Past Is Prologue
Last December, a relatively unknown young analyst at
CIBC World Markets
), Henry Blodget, boldly predicted Internet bookstore
would hit 400 a share. Though there were some naysayers, the stock did just that (on a split-adjusted basis) within three weeks. Blodget became famous and jumped from quaint, middling OpCo to the giant
. Now he is as ubiquitous on television as professional wrestling.
While the bold-call model likely has been great for Blodget's W-2, it puts investors in a strange position. With market participation as broad as it's ever been, investors come to rely on analysts' calls and price targets. The analysts, as a result, gain fame they can use to attract underwriting deals from publicly traded firms, becoming quite valuable on the Street.
And analysts are more important than ever. In July, telecom analyst
Frank Governali was said to have pulled in a two-year, $14 million contract to join
Credit Suisse First Boston
in a very competitive sector.
There's big money for guys who can get visible and bring in deals. PaineWebber, while among the top retail brokerage firms in the nation, isn't exactly an investment banking juggernaut; it doesn't even try to be. And it has done no underwriting for Qualcomm, according to a spokeswoman.
Piecyk hasn't been placed among the upper echelon of wireless analysts, although his work is generally respected. The Qualcomm price target may make him more visible.
But because of Qualcomm's incredible run this year, and the momentum that's now pushing the stock relentlessly higher in the absence of changes in fundamentals, the call isn't as bold as Blodget's was. And why is he only now initiating coverage of Qualcomm?
"Qualcomm stock has been meteoric this year," says one Wall Street recruiter who requested anonymity. "Is it possible that he's going to gain fame from this call? If I were a betting man, I'd say no.
"It's a competitive sector and there are some very visible analysts out there already," the recruiter continues. "He's a good guy, but it's not like Blodget."
Also not like Blodget is hedge fund manager Ashok Ahuja of
, who says he put a price target of 1,000 on Qualcomm stock a few months ago, after meeting with CEO Irwin Jacobs at a conference.
His rationale sounds a lot like Piecyk's and other Qualcomm fans on the Street. CDMA technology will become the wireless standard, making the company's royalties pile up. "Qualcomm in many ways is like
of the wireless industry," Ahuja says, adding that the CDMA market has room to grow in Europe, developing nations and the U.S.
Ahuja is not on the sell side, though. His clients are his and he's typically not distributing his picks to 6,700 brokers hungry for business and recommendations from the firm.
That means Piecyk is in a risky situation.
"He'd better hope he's right," says industry consultant James Freeman. "It brings to mind the
Great Wallenda." The Flying Wallenda, as you likely know, spent their lives walking tight ropes and many met their demise practicing that very skill.