Updated from 6:00 a.m. ESTPart of the philosophy of Stockpickr is to follow in the footsteps of smart people. This could mean a few different things. First, it could mean piggybacking great investors like Warren Buffett or George Soros. Other times it means buying what the CEOs, employees and directors of a company are buying. These are people who know the intimate details of their companies far better than you or I do. The perfect setup is when one of these company insiders or an entire board (in the case of a stock buyback) are buying shares at the same time that some smart savvy investors are as well. Each Thursday we update the Stockpickr Top 10 Insider Purchases and Buybacks portfolio, featuring the stocks of the week that had either big insider purchases or newly announced buybacks, as well as "smart money" accumulating shares. Tiffany ( TIF) makes this week's portfolio. The New York-based jewelry store just added $500 million to its buyback plan, bringing the total amount of shares authorized for repurchase to $637 million. During the last quarter of 2007, Tiffany's board bought back shares at an unusually high rate. Since Nov. 1, it has spent about $400 million repurchasing 8.9 million shares. With 127 million shares outstanding, the new buyback plan will represent 12% of the company's market cap. In the third quarter, Tiffany experienced robust sales growth as its profits more than tripled, reaching $98.9 million, or 71 cents a share. The sale of its Tokyo store helped fuel these gains, but even without the sale, Tiffany still earned 23 cents a share, surpassing the Street's expectations. On a less positive note, Tiffany's numbers during the holiday season were dismal, forcing the company to slash guidance. International same-store sales grew by a mere 5% while U.S. same-store sales dropped 2%. That made Tiffany lower its full-year guidance to a range of $2.25 to $2.28 a share; and consequentially, Tiffany shares responded with an 11% selloff. However, management is still positive about the year ahead and will continue its store expansion at a rate between 12% and 15%. Plenty of analysts, including JMP Securities, Cowen and Co., Pali Research and Bear Stearns agree that Tiffany is a good stock deserving an outperform or buy rating and that investors should capitalize on its cheapness. But price targets had to be trimmed to reflect slow, but not dead, sales. We also like to see that activist investor Nelson Peltz finds Tiffany shares attractive. He recently bought 3.6 million shares of the company, at an average price of $35.58, making him the largest holder of Tiffany with a 7.9% stake. This well-known turnaround artist, who has made billions as a corporate raider and activist, started a hedge fund, Trian, in late 2005. He also holds Cadbury Schweppes ( CSG) and Kraft ( KFT).
Next on the list is MetLife ( MET). The New York insurance and financial services provider just approved a new $1 billion stock repurchase plan. The company will begin the plan after it repurchases the remaining $61 million shares from an earlier $1 billion share-buyback plan that was announced on Sept. 25. The life insurance sector was upgraded by Bernstein Research to overweight from market-weight. The firm said "share prices have fallen too far given the relatively strong capital cushion maintained by companies in the industry." In particular, the analysts are quite confident in MetLife and upgraded the stock to outperform from market perform. They believe MetLife has many attractive qualities, including a solid balance sheet and a variety of products that should sell well to the retiring baby boom generation. It's also an honor that MetLife has been named to Forbes' list of America's 400 best big companies for 2008 and was selected as the best managed company in the insurance industry. Forbes reports that since MetLife's IPO in 2000, the company's EPS has grown at an annual rate of 17%. It's also good to see that Bob Doll, who runs the BlackRock Large-Cap Value Fund, is a believer in MetLife. This four-star Morningstar-rated fund also holds JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and Walt Disney ( DIS). Another great fund into the stock is Vanguard Global Equity. This fund has a Morningstar rating of five stars and is run by William Arah. The fund invests mainly in U.S. and foreign stocks chosen mostly on the basis of industry and company analysis and not on the basis of region or country allocation. The fund also likes Research In Motion ( RIMM) and Freeport-McMoRan ( FCX). So with MetLife, we have a buyback, an upgrade and two well-known investors in the stock. It may pay to do some more homework on this insurer. And finally, Southwest Airlines ( LUV) makes this week's list. The Dallas-based carrier announced a new plan to repurchase $500 million in common stock, which represents roughly 41 million shares. Over the past two years, the company has repurchased 116 million shares of common stock, about $1.8 billion worth. Southwest yesterday reported positive earnings results that showed a near doubling in profits. Net income came in at $111 million, or 15 cents a share, compared to $57 million, or 7 cents a share, in the same period last year. Revenue jumped to $2.49 billion from $2.28 billion. However, the company did warn that rising fuel costs will hurt this quarter's profit. The carrier reported traffic statistics that showed the company flew 5.7 billion revenue passenger miles (RPM) in December 2007, compared to 5.5 billion RPM in December 2006. For the fourth quarter, RPM increased 4.2%, or 6.8% for the full year. Credit Suisse maintained its outperform rating on the stock and said, "Southwest has the industry's best business model; growth prospects are as good today as ever given the carrier's significant cost advantage to legacy carriers and its much stronger balance sheet." We also like to see that the T. Rowe Price Value fund is bullish on Southwest shares. This fund, which has a four-star Morningstar rating, also holds oil and gas supplier Total ( TOT) and Illinois Tool Works ( ITW), a manufacturer of engineered products and specialty systems. Another positive for Southwest's stock is that Farallon Capital Management is invested in the company. The San Francisco-based $10 billion hedge fund also owns shares of Harrah's Entertainment ( HET) and Wendy's ( WEN). So with Southwest, we have a buyback, an outperform rating, solid earnings and two well-known investors in the stock. That's a pretty nice setup. To see the rest of this week's picks, check out Stockpickr's Top 10 Insider Purchases and Buybacks portfolio.
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