By Robert Gordon
I've identified five stocks that Wall Street analysts are optimistic about. While two firms are rating Brocade Communications (BRCD) and Spirit Airlines (SAVE) for the first time, analysts are increasing their expectations for Autozone (AZO), Citigroup (C) and United Parcel Service (UPS). In my opinion, all five stocks look like a buy right now, as they are all benefiting from recent economic trends, improved technologies and sound growth strategies. In the following article, I will discuss the driving forces behind these recent ratings, and why these stocks now present good buying opportunities.
Goldman Sachs upgraded Autozone from Sell to Neutral, and the new price target is $372. One important piece of industry news is that Pep Boys - Manny, Moe & Jack (PBY) is being bought by The Gores Group for $791 million. That important competitor for Autozone has seen success lately due to a number of factors including a new marketing campaign and lower gas prices. It also appears that many auto owners have pent-up demand for repairs and are finally giving in. I expect that trend to continue, which figures to boost Autozone's stock price.
Autozone is also attractive compared to its peers. The stock has lower price to earnings (17.01) and price/earnings to growth (1.11) ratios than Pep Boys - Manny, Moe & Jack and O'Reilly Automotive (ORLY). Quite simply, if The Gores Group is willing to pay $15 per share for Pep Boys - Manny, Moe & Jack, then paying less than $350 for shares of AutoZone seems reasonable. Autozone also stands to benefit from a new trend in which auto owners are keeping their cars for longer. That can probably be attributed to better-built cars as well as a prolonged economic downturn, but the key here is that owners are choosing to repair instead of re-buying. Despite the rather weak upgrade, I believe the recent trend of auto owners hanging onto their cars longer makes this stock a buy right now.
Kaufman Bros is rating Brocade as a Hold with a price target of $5.50, and S&P also just upgraded the company's credit rating and secured debt rating. Among other things, Standard & Poor's applauded Brocade's increased cash flows and improved debt payments. Also, Brocade has had a couple of exciting announcements lately. The company's VCS Fabric technology and VDX 6720 Data Center both received awards from TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. While the VCS Fabric technology is crucial for organizations trying to maximize their cloud computing initiatives, the VDX 6720 is a powerful port switch that allows networks to run at high speed without any unnecessary complications.
Brocade also just had a good showing at AFCEA West 2012. This defense and technology show allowed Brocade to explain how governments can make use of its cloud computing technology. As for my recommendation, I would agree with Kaufman Bros that current shareholders should simply hold on to Brocade without adding more to a position. Brocade has a terrific price/earnings to growth ratio (1.14), which is lower than other stocks like Cisco Systems (CSCO), Hewlett Packard (HPQ) and QLogic (QLGC). On the other hand, Brocade would be more attractive if its margins were better - those numbers are 2.36% profit and 8.87% operating. Despite this, I believe now is the best time to acquire Brocade.
Goldman Sachs upgraded Citigroup from Neutral to Buy at a time when the firm also downgraded Bank of America from Buy to Neutral. That shows some serious conviction, and Goldman Sachs noted "a clearer path for Citigroup to return capital" since Citigroup would be more likely to increase dividends or make stock repurchases. Wells Fargo analyst Matt Burnell has had good things to say about Citigroup too. Mr. Burnell notes that Citigroup and Bank of America would see the biggest share price increases if Greece can work out a deal with its creditors. As for news, one important headline for Citigroup is that Richard Parsons, chairman of the board, may be resigning. While this would certainly be a big loss for the bank, the good news is that reports say the CEO role and the chairman role will be kept separate. In my opinion, Citigroup is a well-run bank, but JPMorgan Chase (JPM) may be slightly more attractive right now. Citigroup's shares are trading at a slightly higher price to earnings ratio (9.14), but JPMorgan Chase is a bit better positioned for future economic problems in Europe. JPMorgan Chase also offers a dividend yield of 2.6%, which is always good to see. Despite this, I still believe Citigroup presents a good opportunity to investors primarily due to its financial position, and now is the time to buy.
Deutsche Bank is rating Spirit Airlines as a Buy with a price target of $24. The company has embarked on an odd ad campaign though, in which it tries to get customers to reverse new laws that require taxes and fees be included in airline fares. The ad can be found here at the company's homepage, and it seems a bit tacky at best. Spirit would prefer that these taxes be broken out separately, but in the past this has caused an issue in which many airlines simply put them in fine print. While both sides of the argument have interesting points, this is obviously not something that Spirit should be so focused about.
On the other hand, it's hard to argue with Spirit's value metrics right now. For a price to earnings ratio of 12.49, this stock could be a good choice for investors. As part of the improving economy, I predict that this airline's focus on South Florida, Latin America and the Caribbean will lead to higher returns for investors. After all, a better economy tends to lead to more frequent vacations. Additionally, Spirit Airlines is experiencing both enormous growth in profits and sales. The company's strong management should be able to keep this up. It is for these reasons that I believe now is a good time to buy this stock.
JPMorgan raised both its price target and earnings estimates for United Parcel Service. The bank's new price target on the stock is $86, although it still rates it as Neutral. One important announcement from UPS is it will begin to use the mark-to-market style to account for its pension costs. This is a move that should be applauded by the investment community, although future earnings reports for the company could be a bit more volatile. Here's what CFO Kurt Kuehn had to say: "This policy provides greater transparency to the company's underlying operating results. I want to emphasize that this change has no impact on benefits for plan participants or UPS cash flow."
As for the upcoming earnings report, it appears that a one-time $827 million pension charge will have to be taken. That's simply part of the mark-to-market, though, and this stock should still be seen as a good choice for dividend investors - the current dividend yield is 2.7%. I can't guarantee that UPS will increase its dividends anytime soon, but obviously these dividends are nearly 100% safe due to the company's foothold in the delivery business. UPS has also seen some exciting logistics growth recently, as many companies are now allowing UPS to perform the final assembly of products. I believe UPS is in a good position to capitalize on this logistics growth, making it a buy right now.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.