Rating Wall Street's Ratings

Ratings are a daily exercise for investment banks and ratings agencies. Sometimes, the company deserves the bump. Other times, it's mindless noise. In this series, we determine whether the ratings should be important to the average investor. These are not in-depth analyses and should be used only to supplement further research.

1. Toymaker JAKKS Pacific (Nasdaq: JAKK  ) got upgrades today from two ratings agencies: Stifel Nicolaus and Needham.

Why? The company performed well last quarter, beating top-line revenue estimates. Earlier this morning, the company announced that it's open to talking to Oaktree Capital Management, which offered to buy Jakks last year and resubmitted its request earlier this month. Jakks has also announced a share offering of $80 million for at least $20 per share.

Justified? Yes. The company is trading above $18 today after the announcement of the tender offer. Net income has dwindled over the past few years, which is certainly something to keep an eye on. Overall, management's confidence in the future prospects of the company and Oaktree's persistent courting suggests that this company is a potential portfolio winner.

2. Heartware International (Nasdaq: HTWR  ) got an upgrade from Barclays from equal weight to overweight.

Why? The FDA announced concern surrounding Heartware's blood pump -- a device with great prospects for heart-failure patients -- but analysts concluded that the concerns were minimal and that the product was likely to obtain approval based on substantial improvements in patient condition during trials.

Justified? No. I admit I'm too risk-averse to consider most approval-pending medical-device stock plays. But here, investment-banking analysts are the ones saying the device is prime for approval while the FDA wants more testing. When it comes to evaluating medical-device safety and effectiveness, I'll go with the FDA over bankers.

3. Retail bank Regions Financial (NYSE: RF  ) got an upgrade from Miller Tabak to buy.

Why? Regions reports its earnings tomorrow, and many hope that it will beat the Street's expectations. The company has a similar business to SunTrust, a company that beat expectations yesterday on a stronger Southeast banking climate.

Justified? Undecided. Regional banks are looking to be better investments than some of the big, overdiversified shops are. Regions in particular has focused on the branch level by improving branch-specific balance sheets and shedding lousy assets. However, there is a federal investigation into the overdraft policies of the bank, which could prove to be harmful to the company if the report is highly critical.

4. Caris raised prospects for Lions Gate (NYSE: LGF  ) , from average to above average.

Why? After the stock sank more than 18% following the Hunger Games release, Caris sees the Twilight franchise and Hunger Games residuals bringing in healthy profits for the roller-coaster company.

Justified? No. Lions Gate is all over the place. Yes, it has a piece of two of the biggest films of the year, but the company has a history of being completely unpredictable. With no dividend and a wobbly industry, I don't see much reason to rush into this one.

Earnings seasons bring on a fury of upgrades and downgrades, and it can be an all-day affair just to get through them all. Keep an eye on this series to stay in the know and save the rest of your day for coffee and Facebook.

Fool contributor Michael Lewis owns no shares of the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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