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 its worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the best ...

Semiconductor stocks are soaring this morning on the back of a broad-based upgrade of the sector from stockhouse Stifel Nicolaus. In a flurry of upgrades, the analyst applied the coveted "buy" rating to:

  • Semiconductor maker Broadcom (NASDAQ:BRCM)
  • Analog specialist Intersil (NASDAQ:ISIL)
  • Fabless chip maker NetLogic Microsystems (NASDAQ:NETL)
  • Communications chip designer PMC-Sierra (NASDAQ:PMCS)
  • Microcontroller maker Microchip Technology

Stifel also removed its sell rating on gaming specialist NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), boosting it to hold. According to Stifel, the sector's valuation as a whole is approaching the deep-discount level, while "booking and order patterns over the past 8 to 12 weeks have improved steadily in January, February, and thus far into March." In such a situation, Stifel is predicting a respite in the stream of earnings warnings from chip makers, and perhaps even some raised guidance in the future.

Is Stifel right? Well, judging from its record, the company does seem to know its semiconductors. Its November downgrade of NVIDIA, for example, has beaten the S&P by a good 20 percentage points over the past four months. Its buy rating on Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT), one month old, is leading the market by about a point. Then again, Stifel's endorsement of Marvell Technology (NASDAQ:MRVL), nearly half a year old, is still lagging the market by a good two points. (Hey, you can't win 'em all.)

One thing I can say about Stifel -- its clients should certainly hope it's calling this one right. Since we first introduced the analyst to readers of this column back in February, Stifel's CAPS rating has taken a dive. Less than two months ago, Stifel stood at the top of the heap of CAPS players with a 99.00 combined rating. Today, it's barely in the top 5% with a rating of 96.24. Let's hope Stifel's reversal of opinion on the chip makers proves prescient, and does its clients proud. (Speaking of which, if you're one of those clients, you can keep track of Stifel's progress, and monitor any new semiconductor nominees it makes, by bookmarking this link.)

Think Stifel's right? Looking for some best-in-class semiconductor investment ideas? We've got several of them for you, courtesy of tech gurus and Motley Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner, both of whom have laid down a chip or two in our Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter (motto: "Walloping the S&P since 2002"). Try it out for 30 days on our dime, and find out which chip stocks we think are best positioned to profit from the turnaround.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked 76th out of more than 25,000 raters. NVIDIA is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.