Every day, Wall Street analysts upgrade some stocks, downgrade others, and "initiate coverage" on a few more. But do these analysts even know what they're talking about? Today, we're putting three high-profile Wall Street picks under the microscope...
In a curious confluence of circumstances, StreetInsider.com is telling us that shares of Lands' End (NASDAQ:LE), La-Z-Boy (NYSE:LZB), and L Brands (NYSE:BBWI), too, all suffered downgrades Thursday morning. And...what the heck is going on? Does Wall Street do these things alphabetically?
The strangeness of the string of downgrades this morning almost makes you think the analysts have given up looking for bargains in this overpriced market, and taken to just scanning the stock lists alphabetically. Almost...until you realize that three completely separate analysts are responsible for the downgrades.
Here are three things you need to know about them.
1. Craig pushes Lands' End over the edge
Our first downgrade this morning comes courtesy of Minneapolis-based brokerage Craig-Hallum, which made news on TheFly.com last year when it endorsed Lands' End stock in the face of a CEO coup. In September, Craig-Hallum insisted that despite Federica Marchionni being forced out as head of the retailer, Lands' End was on track to "deliver ... sequential quarterly improvement through the remainder of 2016."
Five months later, however, Lands' End has warned investors that Q4 2016 revenue will slip 3% in comparison to Q4 2015 (and miss analyst estimates), that comparable sales will likewise slide 3%, and when all's said and done, the company will probably end up reporting a per-share loss of between $2.90 and $3.08.
This obviously is not what Craig-Hallum signed up for, and this morning, the analyst cut its rating from buy to hold, with a $21 price target.
2. Stifel finds La-Z-Boy somewhat less than plush
Next up on Wall Street's hit list today is La-Z-Boy stock, which Stifel Nicolaus is downgrading on disappointing fiscal Q3 2017 results and worries that growth may be "hard to find" in future quarters.
Citing a "challenging" retail environment for furniture, Stifel says it is reducing EBITDA expectations for La-Z-Boy by 5% in the coming fiscal year. Comparing these likely earnings to historical multiples that investors have paid to share in them, the analyst says it thinks La-Z-Boy stock is worth only about $30 or $31 a share -- about 14% more than the shares cost today, but apparently not good enough for Stifel.
As with Lands' End, this results in a downgrade to hold for La-Z-Boy stock.
3. L Brands -- the biggest Loser?
In the final chapter of Wall Street's crusade against the letter "L," we find Atlantic Equities cutting L Brands (the stock formerly known as The Limited) to neutral, with a $56 price target.
As with La-Z-Boy, this new rating appears to imply that L Brands has some room to run -- but only because the stock is trading down more than 15% this morning. L Brands reported better-than-expected earnings yesterday, but missed Wall Street's sales estimates. Worse, management instituted new guidance suggesting that 2017 earnings (projected to range between $3.05 and $3.35 per share) will fall far short of Wall Street's expected $3.70 in per-share profit.
Bonus thing: Could Wall Street be wrong?
Across the board, Wall Street is bashing stocks starting with the letter "L" today, but this doesn't mean they're all losers.
I happen to agree with Craig-Hallum that Lands' End stock is a dud. Unprofitable under GAAP accounting standards, and carrying a heavy debt load, the stock simply doesn't look that great to me -- and never has. On the other hand, I think Atlantic may have been too quick to dismiss L Brands. True, the company's debt load -- $4.9 billion net of cash, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence -- is worrisome. Also, the past four reported quarters have shown L Brands to be generating less cash profit (below $1 billion in free cash flow) than it's been reporting as GAAP net profits. On the other hand, with L Brands stock priced at 14.4 times earnings, pegged for an 11% long-term growth rate, and paying a 4.1% dividend yield, that stock is not entirely hopeless.
It's La-Z-Boy that has me most intrigued, however. Priced at just 12.3 times free cash flow, with no debt on its balance sheet and a 12% long-term projected growth rate, La-Z-Boy stock looks fairly priced at worst. Factor in a 1.5% dividend yield, and I'd say it's arguably even a little bit cheap. Additionally, Home Depot just reported strong earnings results, indicating continued strength in the U.S. housing market -- which should bode well for furniture sales, and could foreshadow faster growth for La-Z-Boy.
If I were betting on any of these "L" three stocks to rack up a mark in the "W" column this year, it would be La-Z-Boy.