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.

Oh well, they tried
Investors in beleaguered tech stock Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM) have to give the folks from Jefferies & Co. this much, at least. On Monday, the investment bank tried to give their stock a boost by upping its rating from "hold" to "buy." Unfortunately, the stock dropped nearly 1% on the news, and it appears to be sitting out today's tech rally, too.

Damning with faint praise
Why did Akamai forgo the usual post-upgrade bounce? Perhaps the manner in which Jefferies phrased its endorsement had something to do with it: According to the analyst, there is no short-term catalyst for the stock. However, "the long-term opportunity for serving HD movies and TV online [is] still intact, the risk/reward looks favorable here."

Problem is, Akamai just reduced its guidance for the whole rest of this year. With a return to prosperity now pushed off into 2009 or beyond, investors aren't feeling particularly patient about waiting around for the "long-term" any more. But what about us mere Fools? We, who've enjoyed the 85% gains since Tim Beyers and the team at Motley Fool Rule Breakers first picked the stock -- should we wait around to see if Jefferies' optimism proves warranted?

Let's go to the tape
For a few clues to whether Jefferies knows what it's talking about in the tech sphere, we turn once again to Motley Fool CAPS, and a glimpse at Jefferies' record there. As it turns out, this banker ranks in the top 10% of investors, thanks largely to successful picks such as:

Company

Jefferies Said:

CAPS Says (5 max):

Jefferies' Pick Beating S&P by:

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM)

Outperform

****

59 points

Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC)

Outperform

**

28 points

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

Outperform

****

22 points

And yet, with a record of guessing right only 52% of the time, you know Jefferies has made a few boneheaded moves as well. A sampling thereof:

Company

Jefferies Said:

CAPS Says (5 max):

Jefferies' Pick Lagging S&P by:

Micron Tech (NYSE:MU)

Outperform

**

49 points

Clearwire  (NASDAQ:CLWR)

Outperform

**

36 points

Emcore (NASDAQ:EMKR)

Outperform

*

32 points

Over the width and breadth of a portfolio currently spanning nearly 400 picks, Jefferies' wrong calls roughly counterbalance its correct guesses. Yet the sum of all these parts still outperforms 9 out of 10 investors in the CAPS universe.

Allow me to predict, therefore, that Jefferies will be proven right again on Akamai. Here's why: At first glance, the stock looks unforgivably expensive. I mean, a 32 P/E on a projected 22% grower? No thanks.

Foolish takeaway
But look a little deeper, and as Jefferies suggests, look out a little farther, and I think you'll like what you see in Akamai. Peer past its accounting profits to the underlying free cash flow Akamai is producing, and you'll find more than $225 million generated over the past year. That works out to a price-to-free cash flow ratio of about 17. To my mind, that's plenty cheap, provided Akamai can achieve projected long-term growth of 22% per year.

A big "if"? Sure. But these things always boil down to a play on the odds. And I don't know of many better analysts to lay odds on than Jefferies -- or many cheaper tech stocks than Akamai.

Symantec and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Akamai Technologies is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation.

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 No. 457 out of more than 110,000 players.