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 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...
Convinced that the capacity crisis in oil refining is abating, Bear Stearns reacted on Friday by downgrading seemingly every independent refiner it could get its hands on. Marathon (NYSE:MRO), Frontier (NYSE:FTO), and Valero Energy (NYSE:VLO) fell to "underperform," and Sunoco (NYSE:SUN) dropped back to just "peer perform." Between expanding capacity and moderating growth in demand, the broker believes that margins have peaked and the entire sector is now moving into a long-term downturn.

So, is it time to head for the hills? To abandon oil stocks and invest in, I don't know, gold perhaps? To decide whether Bear was right to strangle this particular canary in the coal mine (to mangle the metaphor beyond repair), we turn to CAPS for a quick review of Bear's record.

Specific vs. general
What we learn there at first suggests that Bear's ursine thesis on the refiners should be ignored. The broker has come upon hard times in CAPS Land since we first covered its downgrade of (NASDAQ:AMZN) in February. Back then, the brokerage boasted a 99.48 CAPS rating and a place among the top 10% of Wall Street stock pickers. Today, its rating is down to a lowly 85.04 and lags the top 10% of even ordinary investors (the Amazon pick hasn't helped; it has subtracted 18 points from Bear's tally in just over two months).

But before you decide if Bear's forecasting skills are extinct, consider its record in the field of oil stocks in particular:

Bear Says:

CAPS Says:

Bear's Pick Beating S&P by:

Murphy Oil



13 points




6 points

Amazon has very little to do with the oil sector, you see. And as Bear's record shows, this banker knows a thing or two about hydrocarbons. For this reason, I'd hesitate to discount its downgrades entirely.

Still, I must admit to some skepticism about across-the-board pans like the one Bear sounded last week. If you're looking for more company-specific advice on Bear's anti-recommendations, consider dropping by CAPS to learn where the score leaders on these stocks think they're headed. You can find them by following the links below to:

Just don't be surprised when you discover that in each case, the best analyst on these stocks isn't a professional "analyst" at all but an ordinary individual investor like you and me.

And for further insight into the oil sector, don't forget to claim your free trial subscription to Motley Fool Hidden Gems. Fool co-founder Tom Gardner has been doing a lot of oil excavation in recent months and has already unearthed a couple of ideas for your perusal.

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 137th out of more than 27,000 raters. Amazon is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. The Fool has a disclosure policy.