This Just In: Upgrades and Downgrades

At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." So you might think we'd be the last people to give virtual ink to such "news." And we would be -- if that were all we were doing.

But in "This Just In," we don't simply tell you what the analysts said. We'll also show you whether they know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS, our tool for rating stocks and analysts alike. With CAPS, we'll be tracking the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the best ...
I usually speak of "the best" in a general, forgiving sense -- the same sense, I suspect, that convinces the Wall Street bankers that they are indeed better stock pickers than are the rest of us (despite all evidence to the contrary). Every once in a while, however, one of the firms that truly deserves the title "Wall Street's Best" comes along and publishes a stock recommendation. That happened this week.

Yesterday, Brean Murray upgraded the stock of one of our own favorite companies at Motley Fool Stock Advisor --  fashionista bebe (Nasdaq: BEBE  ) . Noting how "earnings have fallen for the past three quarters," Brean observed that: "over the next four quarters both sales and margin comparisons will be materially easier." Brean believes that bebe's fall clothing lines look better than last year's, and will help to make those comparisons favorable ones. In short, Brean says, "the worst is behind the company," and it's now safe to buy.

So what?
That's a fair question. When you consider that not a single "professional" analyst currently ranks in the top 100 players on CAPS, investors can be forgiven for taking a jaded view of the supposed expertise of the experts. But not everyone can be No. 1, and within the field of professional stock pickers at least, Brean's record compares pretty well with those of its peers. If you absolutely must follow the advice of a professional, I think you could do a lot worse than listening to one that's in the top 10 in a field of 127, boasts a CAPS ratings of 96.97, and calls 58% of its stock guesses correctly.

We've been tracking Brean for well over a year now, and the firm is looking pretty good, having picked two doubles and one that could make two-bagger status any minute now:

Company

Brean Said:

CAPS Says:

Brean's Pick Beating S&P by:

1-800-Flowers.com (Nasdaq: FLWS  )

Outperform

*

132 points

Shanda Interactive (Nasdaq: SNDA  )

Outperform

*****

126 points

Taleo (Nasdaq: TLEO  )

Outperform

*****

96 points

That said, Brean has made a few mistakes as well. Fortunately for retail-segment investors, these mistakes tend to crop up more often in the tech sector:

Company

Brean Said:

CAPS Says:

Brean's Pick Lagging S&P by:

Dendreon (Nasdaq: DNDN  )

Underperform

**

52 points

Syntax-Brillian  (Nasdaq: BRLC  )

Outperform

***

46 points

Immunomedics  (Nasdaq: IMMU  )

Outperform

***

32 points

Foolish takeaway
When an analyst does a complete 180 on a stock -- any stock -- that should get your attention. When the analyst in question is one of the best in the game, even more so. And when the analyst has proven itself right over time on the very stock in question -- well, you know where I'm going with this. Brean has an enviable record on bebe, you see. Brean twice picked the stock -- once to outperform the S&P (from January to March 2007, netting the firm four points), and once to underperform (from August 2007 through yesterday, netting the firm seven more points). These guys are two for two already, and my money says their third time will be another charm.

Oh, and one final point before I close today's column. At last report, bebe was selling for just 18 times trailing earnings -- trailing earnings that, you may recall, Brean referred to as "the worst" that is now "behind" bebe. If the retailer manages to achieve the 17% annual profits growth that most analysts think it capable of, the shares are fairly priced today. On the other hand, if Brean sees something that the other analysts don't, we may be looking at a bargain here.

Speaking of which, you might be interested in reading what our own analysts at Stock Advisor have to say about bebe. Never hurts to get a second opinion, and since we're giving away free trials to the service, that second opinion won't cost you a dime. Click here to take a look.


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