By Larry Gellar
Analysts are taking optimistic action on 5 big-name stocks. While Delta (NYSE:DAL), Dover (NYSE:DOV), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), and St. Jude (NYSE:STJ) received full-on upgrades, Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) price target and earnings estimates were both increased. Let's see what's been happening with these 5 stocks:
Delta Air Lines
Analyst action: Evercore Partners upgraded Delta from Underweight to Equal-weight with a price target of $11.
Recent performance: Delta started off 2012 near $8, but the stock price is now over $10.
Recent headlines: Delta's earnings report was significantly better than analysts were expecting. The company earned 45 cents per share compared to estimates of 37 cents per share, and revenue was up 8 percent year over year. Like other airline carriers, Delta has embarked on a strategy of reducing its number of flights and increasing its fares, which has significantly improved margins. While travelers may not be thrilled about this change, it is allowing Delta to run more efficiently in a tough economy. In fact, revenue per passenger-mile for the airline increased by 12% this past quarter.
What we think: With price to earnings now at 19.60 and price to sales now at 0.24, it may be too late for investors to cash in on Delta's success. While United Continental (NYSE:UAL) offers cheaper value metrics, that company's operations simply aren't as complete as Delta's. Additionally, both companies will be affected by increasing fuel costs, although Delta has been pretty successful with its hedging measures. Investors looking to buy Delta would be better served waiting for the stock to overreact to a market pullback.
Analyst action: Stifel Nicolaus upgraded Dover from Hold to Buy with a price target of $76.
Recent performance: Dover has steadily improved from just over $50 in November to nearly $63.
Recent headlines: Dover just reported tremendous earnings. Net income was up 40 percent over last year, and revenue increased by 15 percent. Analysts were actually expecting Dover to put out slightly higher revenue than it did, although the company was able to beat on the bottom line.
What we think: With price to earnings of 14.60, price/earnings to growth of 0.97, and price to sales of 1.37, this stock compares favorably to other machinery companies such as Cooper Industries (CBE), Ingersoll-Rand (NYSE:IR), and Weatherford International (NYSE:WFT). In fact, Dover has the best margins out of all those stocks (gross = 37.82% and operating = 14.96%). Dover currently has a dividend yield of 2.10%, and there a number of factors that lead us to believe that the company will increase dividends soon. With growth coming from Energy, Engineered Systems, Fluids, Communication Technologies, and Printing/Identification, Dover will simply have no choice but to increase the value it's returning to shareholders. Dover has also made some crucial acquisitions lately - Harbison-Fischer and Sound Solutions in particular - and it won't be long before these subsidiaries are bringing in substantial revenue.
Analyst action: Citigroup upgraded Netflix from Neutral to Buy with a price target of $130.
Recent performance: Netflix was up over $20 on the day of this writing.
Recent headlines: Not only did Netflix beat analyst expectations for revenue and net income, but also the company's first-quarter predictions were rather optimistic. Quite simply, Netflix did a fine job of adding more subscribers at a time when many people felt the company had made irreversible mistakes. More specifically, the company's price increase first angered customers and then a plan to spin off the DVD-by-mail business confused them. That spinout plan was eventually discarded, but Netflix executives have emphasized that the DVD business is no longer the focus of the company.
What we think: Netflix is a fairly unique company, so valuation comparisons aren't easy. Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) trades at almost four times the price to earnings ratio of Netflix (101.85 vs. 26.18), but that may be more a sign of an overvalued Amazon than an undervalued Netflix. Netflix as a company certainly has room to grow, but the stock is prohibitively expensive after today's run-up. There are simply too many companies trying to compete with Netflix right now, as evidenced by the recent agreement between Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA).
Analyst action: Morgan Stanley increased both its price target and earnings estimates for Time Warner. The new price target is $41.
Recent performance: Time Warner has slowly risen from $33 in November to its current price of $38.
Recent headlines: Time Warner is investing a new start-up called Bluefin Labs. The company analyzes TV programming and its relevant social media and then sells the data to TV networks and advertising agencies. While Bluefin is still in its infantile stage, this investment should be seen as a heads-up play on the part of Time Warner. Meanwhile, Time Warner's Time magazine made waves at the Consumer Electronics Show. The magazine made a massive offering of its tablet apps, which could help to bring in more subscriptions.
What we think: This tried-and-true media company offers a solid dividend yield of 2.50%. That'll be reason enough for some investors to consider a purchase, and TV networks like TNT, TBS, CNN, HBO, and Cinemax should keep the dividends rolling in. Time Warner's value metrics also look good. Compared to News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWSA) and Disney , Time Warner boasts the lowest price to earnings (14.43), price/earnings to growth (0.98), and price to sales (1.34) ratios.
St. Jude Medical
Analyst action: Canaccord upgraded St. Jude from Hold to Buy with a price target of $50.
Recent performance: St. Jude traded for $33 in one part of December, but the stock price is now almost up to $41.
Recent headlines: St. Jude just reported earnings, and profit per share and revenue were slightly above analyst expectations. The company's forecast for the current quarter was a bit below analyst expectations, although that may simply be due to St. Jude executives being conservative. Meanwhile, St. Jude had tremendous success with its FAME II trial. The study went so well that an independent board told St. Jude it should stop the study because the treatment group was faring so much better than the control group.
What we think: St. Jude offers a lower price/earnings to growth ratio than Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX), Edwards Lifesciences (NYSE:EW), and Medtronic (NYSE:MDT). A 2.20% dividend yield sweetens the deal as well, and St. Jude should have no problem keeping those dividends up. Cardiac Rhythm Management devices as well as cardiovascular products will be crucial sources of revenue in 2012. Additionally, we are forecasting strong growth in the company's Neuromodulation division due to success with deep brain stimulation.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.