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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 track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.
And speaking of the best ...
It's a brave banker who dares to urge buying a stock on earnings eve. Fortunately, for Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) investors, one did just that this morning. More fortunate still, the name of the banker is MKM Partners.
Yes, Fools, just hours before Motorola releases its Q3 earnings report, out came MKM with a "buy" recommendation this morning. While the details are still sketchy, one number in the report should grab your attention: Motorola, selling for under $8 a share before the upgrade, is expected to reach $10 a share -- a clean 25% profit, and maybe more.
There are few situations more frustrating to the individual investor than knowing your stock has been upgraded, but not knowing why -- or whether there's any basis for the upgrade at all. Sadly, the mainstream media outlets are keeping mum on the details of MKM's upgrade (or perhaps the analyst was just too shy to share them.) But while we cannot tell you precisely what the analyst is thinking about Motorola, here at CAPS we can at least give you some insight into how well it does its thinking.
Let's go to the tape
And here's the really good news: When it comes to picking communications equipment stocks like Motorola, there are few analysts on the planet who can touch MKM's record of 75% accuracy in the industry. Over the two years we've been tracking this analyst's performance, MKM has only missed the boat twice on comms stocks -- while walloping Wall Street with its wins:
MKM's Picks Beating
|Nokia (NYSE: NOK )||Underperform||***||30 points|
|Riverbed Tech (Nasdaq: RVBD )||Outperform||***||104 points|
|F5 Networks (Nasdaq: FFIV )||Outperform||***||139 points|
|Blue Coat Systems (Nasdaq: BCSI )||Outperform||****||148 points|
MKM was also right, incidentally, the last time it told investors to buy Motorola, in August of last year. That pick beat the market by a modest 8 percentage points -- and call me crazy, call me a Fool, but I think MKM is setting itself up for a repeat of that win. Here's why:
Motorola motors, while Jobs just jabs
With a P/E ratio of 48, and a projected long-term growth rate of less than 8%, Motorola isn't the most obvious candidate for market outperformance, I'll admit. But dig a little deeper, and you'll see that regardless of the "GAAP" earnings numbers say it's "earning" less than $400 million a year, the actual fact is that Motorola generated in excess of $1.9 billion in free cash flow last year.
So forget about the 48 P/E-stock-story. What we're really looking at here is a company that trades for less than 10 times annual free cash flow, and that boasts nearly $5 billion in net cash in its bank account (brining its enterprise value-to-free cash flow ratio now to an even cheaper 7.2.)
It's also a company, lest we forget, that's standing on the cusp of a historic spinoff of its cell-phone-making arm. As "Motorola" evolves into the twin companies Motorola Solutions (radio sets, handheld scanners, and telecom equipment) and Motorola Mobility (cell phones and cable set-top boxes), management aims to unleash shareholder value. And it's doing so at the very time when its long-beleaguered cell phone division is experiencing a renaissance of revival with help from the now ubiquitous Android operating system.
For all Steve Jobs' jabbering about how his Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone is conquering the world, outselling Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) and out-apping Google, the fact remains that Android is very, very popular with consumers these days. We've seen the evidence in Motorola's improving financial performance already. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we see even more evidence of it when Motorola reports tomorrow.