9 Ex-Dividend Stocks With Buy Ratings

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The following stocks go ex-dividend Wednesday, meaning an investor must purchase the shares Tuesday to qualify for the next dividend payment: Hershey ( HSY), Carnival ( CCL), Allergan ( AGN), Limited Brands ( LTD), Avista ( AVA), Healthcare Services Group ( HCSG), Mineral Technologies ( MTX), Nu Skin ( NUS) and Robert Half International ( RHI).

Each of the stocks received a buy rating from TheStreet Ratings.

Hershey

The chocolate company reported earlier this month fourth-quarter earnings of $142.1 million, or 62 cents a share, up from year-ago earnings of $135.5 million, or 59 cents.

"We lower our 1Q12 EPS estimate from $0.83 to $0.78. Key elements of our forecast are: 1) Organic sales growth of +5.5% with volume -2.5% and price/mix +8%. HSY forecasts volumes to be down in the first quarter as pricing flows through," Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts wrote in a Feb. 2 report. "This will be the first quarter with pricing implemented on seasonal product; 2) We forecast gross margin of 42%, a sequential improvement versus last quarter, as pricing and cost savings help mitigate higher input costs. Looking ahead, gross margin is expected to sequentially improve and be up +75bps for the year with improved price realization; 3) We forecast SG&A as a % of sales to be 23.5% of sales as HSY boosts advertising spend behind new products and seasonal; 4) Below the line, we forecast interest expense of $25.4m, a tax rate of 36% and shares outstanding of 229m."

Forward Annual Dividend Yield: 2.5%

Rated "A- (Buy)" by TheStreet Ratings: The company's fourth-quarter gross profit margin decreased from the prior year.

Hershey has weak liquidity. Its Quick Ratio is 0.93, which demonstrates a lack of ability to meet its short-term cash needs.

In the fourth quarter, stockholders' net worth decreased 3.28% from the prior year.

TheStreet Ratings' price target is $74.54. The stock closed Friday at $60.86 and has fallen 1.49% year to date.

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Carnival

The cruise company is doing an audit on all of its cruise lines' safety measures following the Costa Concordia crash in January.

"We continue to believe that the adverse effects on demand caused by the Costa Concordia incident will be relatively short lived and that investors should focus on the medium term strengths of the business," Jefferies analysts wrote in a Feb. 7 report. "Capacity additions remain subdued and underlying demand is firm, buoyed by decent US GDP growth and falling unemployment in key markets such as the US and Germany."

Forward Annual Dividend Yield: 3.3%

Rated "B- (Buy)" by TheStreet Ratings: The company's fourth-quarter gross profit margin dropped from the previous year.

Carnival has very weak liquidity. Its Quick Ratio is 0.12, which demonstrates a lack of ability to meet its short-term cash needs.

In the fourth quarter, stockholders' net worth has increased 3.47% from the prior year.

TheStreet Ratings' price target is $36.93. The stock closed Friday at $30.97 and has declined 5.12% year to date.


Allergan

The health care company reported earlier this month earnings of $279.8 million, or 92 cents a share, up from year-ago earnings of $263.1 million, or 87 cents.

"Management sounded confident in the potential for its current products and pipeline to drive strong growth," Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts wrote in a Feb. 9 report. "Re-loading the pipeline through both internal and external efforts (supported by strong cash flow) will be a priority for 2012. We are maintaining our Buy rating, as we believe that AGN's diversified revenue base, strong pipeline, focus on innovation, and productive R&D engine position the company well for continued strong and sustainable revenue and EPS growth."

Forward Annual Dividend Yield: 0.2%

Rated "A- (Buy)" by TheStreet Ratings: The company's fourth-quarter gross profit margin was basically the same as the prior year.

Allergan is extremely liquid. Its Quick Ratio is 3.47, which shows the company can meet its short-term cash needs.

In the fourth quarter, stockholders' net worth increased 11.60% from the prior year.

TheStreet Ratings' price target is $109.39. The stock closed Friday at $87.91 and has risen slightly year to date.

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Limited Brands

The clothing retailer is scheduled to report fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday. Analysts, on average, anticipate earnings of $1.46 a share on revenue of $3.48 billion.

"We are increasingly compelled by productivity enhancement opportunities and the likelihood of meaningful international expansion," Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a Feb. 2 report. "Our concerns regarding a slowing of comps are becoming more challenging to justify, given outperformance as the company approaches peak productivity. We will look for upcoming comps to provide validation of the view that momentum could persist even as the company exceeds prior peak productivity, particularly at Victoria's Secret."

Forward Annual Dividend Yield: 2.2%

Rated "B (Buy)" by TheStreet Ratings: The company's third-quarter gross profit margin was basically the same as the prior year.

Limited Brands has weak liquidity. Its Quick Ratio is 0.53, which demonstrates a lack of ability to meet its short-term cash needs.

In the third quarter, stockholders' net worth decreased 74.54% from the prior year.

TheStreet Ratings' price target is $57.11. The stock closed Friday at $46.50 and has risen 15.24% year to date.


Avista

The energy company reported on Wednesday fourth-quarter earnings of $24.6 million, or 42 cents a share, down from year-ago earnings of $25.7 million, or 45 cents.

Forward Annual Dividend Yield: 4.6%

Rated "A- (Buy)" by TheStreet Ratings: The company's third-quarter gross profit margin was basically the same as the prior year.

Avista has very weak liquidity. Its Quick Ratio is 0.40, which demonstrates a lack of ability to meet its short-term cash needs.

In the third quarter, stockholders' net worth increased 5.82% from the previous year.

TheStreet Ratings' price target is $30.17. The stock closed Friday at $25.59 and has fallen slightly year to date.

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Healthcare Services Group

The housekeeping company to nursing homes and other facilities reported earlier this month fourth-quarter earnings of $10.5 million, or 16 cents a share, an increase from year-ago earnings of $9.1 million, or 14 cents.

"Revenue growth of 24% was easily the strongest we've seen from the company," Morgan Keegan analysts wrote in a Feb. 8 report. "Management reported a very robust 14% growth rate for Housekeeping and a stunning 50%+ annual gain for Dietary. Given HCSG's recurring revenue model, we believe this growth sets the stage for higher earnings going forward."

Forward Annual Dividend Yield: 3.2%

Rated "A (Buy)" by TheStreet Ratings: The company's fourth-quarter gross profit margin decreased from the prior year.

Healthcare Services Group is extremely liquid. Its Quick Ratio is 4.42, which shows the company can meet its short-term cash needs.

In the fourth quarter, stockholders' net worth increased 2.18% from the previous year.

TheStreet Ratings' price target is $24.27. The stock closed Friday at $20.38 and has risen 15.21% year to date.


Minerals Technologies

The specialty mineral company reported earlier this month fourth-quarter earnings of $19.6 million, or $1.11 a share, up from year-ago earnings of $15.7 million, or 87 cents.

"The valuations and market values for cyclical names and the chemical space generally have appreciated over the past eight weeks. MTX's valuation remains attractive on a relative and on an absolute basis," JPMorgan analysts wrote in a Feb. 6 report.

Forward Annual Dividend Yield: 0.3%

Rated "B (Buy)" by TheStreet Ratings: The company's fourth-quarter gross profit margin decreased from the previous year.

Minerals Technologies is extremely liquid. Its Quick Ratio is 3.36, which shows the company can meet its short-term cash needs.

In the fourth quarter, stockholders' net worth decreased 1.84% from the prior year.

TheStreet Ratings' price target is $77.67. The stock closed Friday at $66.60 and has increased 17.81% year to date.

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Nu Skin

The personal care products company reported earlier this month fourth-quarter earnings of $49.5 million, or 76 cents a share, up from year-ago earnings of $37.3 million, or 58 cents.

"Our thesis remains that Nu Skin is in the midst of a powerful product cycle, coupled with a concerted effort to improve margins that should drive above-average EPS growth," Canaccord analysts wrote in a Feb. 3 report.

Forward Annual Dividend Yield: 1.5%

Rated "A+ (Buy)" by TheStreet Ratings: The company's fourth-quarter gross profit margin was basically the same as the prior year.

Nu Skin has average liquidity. Its Quick Ratio is 1.34, which shows the company can meet its short-term cash needs.

In the fourth quarter, stockholders' net worth increased 21.85% from the prior year.

TheStreet Ratings' price target is $70.98. The stock closed Friday at $54.40 and has increased 12% year to date.


Robert Half International

The staffing company reported last month fourth-quarter earnings of $42 million, or 30 cents a share, up from year-ago earnings of $24.1 million, or 17 cents.

"In addition to the increased dividend, we believe that the company will be able to continue to buy back stock," William Blair analysts wrote in a Feb. 8 report. "Because of the company's organic growth focus, there are not many other uses for free cash flow than share purchases and dividends. That is why the company's share count has decreased every one of the last seven years, including an aggregate 20% decrease in the company's share count over that time period and a 2.2% year-over-year decrease in the fourth quarter."

Forward Annual Dividend Yield: 2.1%

Rated "B (Buy)" by TheStreet Ratings: The company's fourth-quarter gross profit margin was basically the same as last year.

Robert Half has strong liquidity. Its Quick Ratio is 1.63, which shows the company can meet its short-term cash needs.

In the fourth quarter, stockholders' net worth decreased 4.05% from the prior year.

TheStreet Ratings' price target is $34.35. The stock closed Friday at $29.17 and has increased 2.49% year to date.

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-- Written by Alexandra Zendrian

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