This is the first in what will be a regular column looking at the week's gutsy -- and gutless -- calls by analysts. The Analysts Report will appear every Friday.
"Aren't you supposed to make the call before the news?"
That was the rhetorical question posed Thursday by
analyst Andrew Neff. And given his prescient mid-December downgrade of
to attractive from buy because of concerns about a slowing economy, he has earned the right to point to the scoreboard. Since Neff lowered his rating, EMC has been beaten up like
in the first few rounds of every fight he was in, down 35.5%.
Of course, the news came earlier this week, when the data-storage giant that everyone loves to love offered guidance for 2001 that was somewhat below what the Street was anticipating. EMC also floated the dreaded "V" word -- visibility -- which is scaring people more than the name
Keyser Soze. After the news, the other shoe dropped. On Thursday, both
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's
Gillian Munson and
Banc of America's
Shaw Wu downgraded the storage giant. MSDW cut the company to neutral from outperform, saying, "Our neutral rating is meant to signal lower near-term visibility and valuation concerns." Banc of America dropped EMC to market perform from strong buy.
Credit Suisse First Boston's
Amit Chopra lowered his price target to $75 from $105, while reiterating his buy rating Thursday. Trailing not too far behind,
Dane Lewis lowered his revenue and EPS estimates for the first quarter of 2001 and for the full year.
Despite -- and others' recent downgrades -- Neff said he still thinks EMC is "very well positioned in a lousy economy." Neff noted that while Thursday's downgrades were likely related to EMC's preannouncement, they probably had more to do with
recent earnings warning. Hindsight's 20-20, eh?
This Week's Herd Some News Award
regular midquarter conference call guided analyst estimates lower Thursday, a practice all too typical of tech companies in this beaten-down market. What leaves the investor puzzled, though, is whether or not the analysts should have seen this coming. A solid number of those tracking SUNW obviously didn't, as a slew of downgrades and estimate revisions followed the conference call on Friday morning.
Perhaps what separates the wheat from the chaff is the foresight.
Thomas Kraemer downgraded SUNW on Wednesday, a day before the call, as a solo act. But then he added round two Friday morning with an additional set of revenue and EPS revisions.
Joining Kraemer post facto were
Credit Suisse First Boston's
Amit Chopra and
Laura Conigliaro. It seems that analysts are succumbing to the same "lack of visibility" as the companies themselves -- Elling said, "the downward revision was sharper than expected"; Chopra wrote, "While the lowered guidance was expected, its magnitude was not"; and Kraemer echoed, "While we expected management to lower expectations for the current quarter, the magnitude of the reductions caught us by surprise."
Birds of a feather, blinded together.
A notable note this week came from Lehman Brothers' Holly Becker, maintaining her market perform rating on
. Becker initiated coverage on Amazon in May of last year, after making the switch from
Salomon Smith Barney
. While at Salomon, Becker was quoted in
"Person of the Year" article on
(Dec. 27, 1999) as saying, "Wall Street will look back on these growing pains and realize management's foresight in developing one of the smartest strategies in business history."
Becker initiated coverage with a buy rating in May, downgraded two full steps to a neutral in July, and has held steady since. In July her doubts began to emerge, noting, "To justify further appreciation, we need to see the emergence of large-scale businesses beyond books." Follow the slide In Thursday's note, with Amazon down 78.2% since she assigned her buy rating in May, she wrote, "Furthermore, the company's business model appears to be fundamentally disadvantaged in several areas." That's a far cry from one of the smartest strategies in history.
Kevin Simpson, first vice president at Merrill Lynch, raised his intermediate-term rating on
to buy from accumulate, writing, "We have not had SLB rated intermediate-term buy for a number of years."
The true showing of his mettle is in Simpson's explanation that "with the 19% decline since the announcement of the
deal, a buying opportunity has come along that one does not get often." Little else need be said.
With other recent movement in Schlumberger's ratings being
downgrade to hold from strong buy on Feb. 13, Simpson deserves this week's shout-out for his conviction and candor.
Simpson's long-term rating on Schlumberger remains at buy.
Goldman Sachs analyst Avi Nash made an interesting move Friday, upgrading
to market outperformer from market performer. What makes it interesting is the accompanying
revision of 2001 EPS estimates to 95 cents from $1.60. That's a pretty big jump down for an upgrade. (Nash did, however, raise 2002 EPS estimates to $3 from $2.50.)
No reasoning was included with the note and there seems to be no news about the company as of late. Nash was unreachable for comment.
While Nova lists 14 analysts tracking its stock (five of whom are in Toronto, where the company is also listed), only Nash is listed on
. Nash shows up twice, with the recent upgrade, and the mirror-image downgrade last April.
Gutsy Call of the Week
After becoming the epitome of down-and-out dot-coms,
burst forth today to make a last-minute position move as the subject of this week's
. Earlier today,
Thomas Underwood initiated coverage of the company with a strong buy rating -- yup, a
buy. Down a solid 95.9% in the last year, priceline has not been touted in quite a while, but Underwood writes, "We believe the worst is behind priceline," and that "Despite the company's checkered past regarding hitting earnings estimates and expansion plans, we are confident in our $5+ million 2001
EBITDA estimate for priceline shares." That's bravery.
The company closed at a slight $2.31 yesterday, the marked entry point for buying, with an estimated 12-month price target of $6. Well, that's still a solid 160% 12-month return.