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. Independence Holding Co. ( IHC) is a life and health insurance group. It has been downgraded to a hold from a buy. The company's revenue growth of 14.5% in the second quarter compared with the same period last year outpaced the industry average of 13.2%. Its debt-to-equity ratio is also beneath that of the industry. Independence reported EPS growth of 62.50% in that timeframe, and while it has reported somewhat volatile earnings of late, TheStreet.com Ratings believe it is poised for earnings growth in the coming year. As a counter to these strengths, the company's weaknesses include a weak operating cash flow and a stock price decline of 18.94% in the past 12 months. Independence Holding had been rated a buy since September 2005.
Off-price department store operator Retail Ventures ( RVI) has been downgraded to a sell from a hold. Its debt-to-equity ratio of 2.93 is higher than the industry average, implying very poor debt management. Net operating cash flow decreased 52.08% to $16.64 million in the first quarter of its fiscal year 2008 over the same period last year, and its stock is down by 26.90% in the past 12 months. Even though the slump has made it cheaper than most other stocks in its industry, due to other concerns, it is still not a good buy right now. Retail Ventures had been rated a hold since July 2007. Measurement Specialties ( MEAS) designs, manufactures and markets sensors to original equipment manufacturers and end users. It has been upgraded to a buy from a hold. The company's revenue grew 15.6% in the first quarter of its fiscal 2008 compared with the same period last year, and EPS increased by 52.94% in the same period. That continued a two-year pattern of positive EPS growth. The company's net operating cash flow grew at a rate nearly twice that of the industry average. In the past 12 months, its stock price has increased by 40.93%, and while any stock can fall in a broad market decline, it should continue to move higher. While the company may harbor some minor weaknesses, they are unlikely to have a significant impact on results. Measurement Specialties had been rated a hold since June 2007.
Minimill steel producer Gerdau Ameristeel ( GNA) has been downgraded to a hold from a buy. The company's revenue grew 10.4% in the second quarter over the year-earlier period, although that trailed the industry average of 40.6%. Its debt-to-equity ratio of 0.22 is lower than the industry average, implying successful debt management. The company's stock price has increased 13.15% in the past year. As a counter to these strengths, Gerdau's gross profit margin of 21.10% is considered rather low, and net operating cash flow decreased 59.12% to $69.10 million in the second quarter compared with the same period in 2006. Gerdau had been rated a buy since January 2007. Maker of progressive lenses and molds for the ophthalmic market Shamir Optical Industry ( SHMR) has been upgraded to a buy from a hold. Its strengths include revenue growth of 19.8% in the second quarter over the year-earlier period and a 20.8% rise in net income to $2.02 million in the same time frame. The latter growth rate outpaced both the S&P 500 and the industry average. Shamir Optical's earnings per share increased to 12 cents from 10 cents over the same period, and while the company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently, it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. Driven by these positives, its stock price has increased by 35.21% in the last 12 months. Given its strengths, the company's disappointing return on equity is no cause for concern. Shamir had been rated a hold since April 2007.
FPB Bancorp ( FPBI) is the holding company for First Peoples Bank, which offers retail and commercial banking services in Florida. It has been downgraded to a sell from a hold. The company's share price has gone down by 22.45% in the past 12 months and could be down again over the next year. The stock price slump is due in part to a steep drop in EPS, which declined 70.02% in the second quarter compared with the same period last year. In addition, net income declined to $40,000 in the second quarter of 2007 compared with $140,000 in the same period last year. FPB Bancorp had been rated a hold since June 2006. TheStreet.com Ratings has initiated coverage on Evercore Partners ( EVR), an investment banking boutique that advises multinational corporations on mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, restructurings and other strategic corporate transactions. It has been rated a sell. Evercore swung to a loss of $4.68 per share in the second quarter from a gain of $5.87 per share in the second quarter of 2006. Its gross profit margin of 43.10% is still considered a strength, even though it has decreased from the same period last year. However the company's net profit margin underperformed the rest of its industry.