I am going to tell you about a stock that analysts are completely wrong about.

Before I reveal it, though, let me set the stage with a cautionary Wall Street tale. I warn you, it may make you angry.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Brian Kennedy is a Wall Street analyst who nailed a "sell" call last April. He saw bad things ahead for CardioNet -- the maker of a wireless heart monitoring system. Specifically, based on his research, he expected Medicare to heavily reduce the price it paid for CardioNet's system.

He was spot-on. Less than three months later, Medicare made its price cut and CardioNet shares plummeted. Kennedy's April warning saved his followers a 70% loss ... during a bull rally, no less.

His call looks great now, but at the time, all he got was:

  • Ridicule from competing analysts.
  • Hostility from co-workers.
  • An internal legal investigation.
  • An SEC complaint (filed by CardioNet).

He would enjoy being proven right and getting the last laugh, except for one thing. Realizing that "there is no real desire for that kind of report on Wall Street," he quit his job at Jefferies & Co. in July.

The why behind the why
You would think that a guy who could think independently to save his clients a fortune would be exactly the type of guy you'd want to keep around.

I know I would want him around. I know my colleagues at The Motley Fool would as well. And I'm sure you would, too.

But Wall Street? Not so much.

Yes, they want to please their clients. But not at the expense of ticking off other, more lucrative clients.

You see, Wall Street firms don't just make "buy, sell, or hold" calls on companies. They also underwrite the IPOs and secondary offerings of these very same companies. This is in addition to debt underwriting, mergers and acquisitions advising, and anything else they can charge for.

Sure, "Chinese walls" and other precautions help, but it's simply not in Wall Street's best interest to criticize a client.

Now, this wouldn't be quite as big a deal if Wall Street wasn't so incestuous. When a company goes looking for capital, it's not just one firm that helps it out. Nope, Wall Street forms a syndicate. When Google went public in 2004, 28 Wall Street firms underwrote the IPO, including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and on down the list. When Visa went public in 2008, 45 underwriters were on board.

Since the gravy train only starts with a company's IPO, you can see how there are incentives to rate a company a "buy" or at the very least a "hold." And don't be fooled. Companies know who's been naughty and who's been nice. You can go back to CardioNet's SEC complaint against our intrepid analyst for proof of that.

Here's how bad it is
Recent data from Thomson Financial gives us an idea of just how blatant that "buy" rating bias is -- analyst buy calls outnumber "sell" calls almost 7 to 1.

For a more ground-level feel, let's take a look at the company-by-company level. Here are consensus ratings for the 10 largest S&P 500 stocks starting with the letter "M":


Market Capitalization
(in Billions)

Consensus Rating

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)









Medtronic (NYSE: MDT)



Morgan Stanley



Monsanto (NYSE: MON)



MetLife (NYSE: MET)



MasterCard (NYSE: MA)



MedcoHealth Solutions (NYSE: MHS)



Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO)


Between Buy and Hold

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Don't think I cherry-picked the letter "M" because it had a lot of "buy" calls; when you go through the entire S&P 500, there are only two companies that are so bad that they are consensus "sells" (Sears and Kodak, if you're curious.)

Analysts are wrong about this stock
Believe it or not, Hershey was rated a "sell" until fairly recently. It's now a "hold" but is still in the bottom 10, ranked only a few places above AIG. Yes, you can criticize Hershey for being closely held, for stagnating growth, and even for being a little pricey.

But the fact remains that Hershey has a 40% share of the stable U.S. chocolate market, is pumping out cash flows that are much higher than earnings, has a strong balance sheet, and has a sustainable 3% dividend.

In short, it's utterly ridiculous that Wall Street thinks Hershey is one of the very worst bets out of the entire S&P 500.

It's thinking like this that gets me fired up to research stocks and take on the market. It's also what spurred David and Tom Gardner to start The Motley Fool in the '90s. In March 2002, they took it a step further by starting their Stock Advisor investing service.

Each month since then, David and Tom have each picked one stock they consider a "buy" and have combined to beat the market by an average of 56 percentage points per recommendation. If you'd like to join them and see all their picks, click here for a free 30-day trial. You can cancel at any time.

This article was originally published Jan. 23, 2010. It has been updated.

Anand Chokkavelu owns shares of Microsoft and McDonald's and has been thinking about a Kit Kat bar since the first mention of Hershey. Monsanto and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Google is a Rule Breakers pick. MedcoHealth Solutions is a Stock Advisor choice. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of and has written puts on Medtronic. The Fool has a disclosure policy.