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 track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.
And speaking of the best ...
Following in the bullish hoofprints that multinational megabank Citigroup laid down last week, tiny independent analyst Argus Research upgraded Procter & Gamble
There are few situations more frustrating to an individual investor than the one P&G owners find themselves in today. We know that P&G reported earnings last week. We know investors were dismayed with the results, selling the shares off hard. And now we know that some analyst disagrees with 'em. But we don't know why.
Was it because half of the decline in P&G's earnings was because of discontinued operations falling off the income statement? Was it because post-sell-off, P&G's 3.2% dividend payment became just that much juicier? Or was it because Argus just plain thinks the shares are cheap? We do not know.
What we know
We do know that Motley Fool CAPS keeps close track of analysts like Argus, and how its recommendations stack up over time. Whatever the underlying rationale, we monitor the analysts' upgrades and downgrades, and measure how well those predictions pan out. So while evaluating Argus' logic on any given stock rating remains problematic, we at least have a way of evaluating whether Argus is generally "smart" or not.
So is it?
As a matter of fact, it is. While still shy of the coveted "Wall Street's Best" title, Argus is definitely an "All-Star" stock picker, scoring a 89.68 combined rating on CAPS. That said, Argus doesn't have much of a record in P&G's traditional household products bailiwick, boasting only one real winner, its 2008 recommendation of P&G rival Colgate-Palmolive
We can also presume that if Argus likes P&G, and if Citigroup also likes the company, then some of the same things Citi analysts saw in P&G's earnings report last week are the same things Argus likes in it today. Things like the fact that: "PG's 4Q10 EPS of $0.71 was squarely within mgmt's prior guidance of $0.68-$0.74." That: "the guts of PG's quarter were solid -- with strong volume growth ... solid gross margin expansion, and much higher investment spending."
Procter & Gamble: Lather, rinse, repeat?
We also know a few things about Procter & Gamble itself. Like the fact that while revenue seems more or less stagnant, the company's 20% operating margins are holding their own alongside competitors Colgate, Clorox
Valuation-wise, P&G shares also seem attractive. The company sells for just over 17 times trailing earnings, cheaper than Colgate, but a bit more than Clorox or Kimberly-Clark. And because P&G is churning out free cash in excess of reported earnings, its price-to-free cash flow ratio is even lower than the P/E might make you guess -- about a 13.3 ratio.
Weighed against the high-single-digit growth rate that Wall Street expects from P&G over the next five years, and with the 3.2% dividend yield tossed in for good measure, I see P&G shares as not undervalued, exactly, but not excessively expensive, either.
Foolish final thought
Once upon a time, Warren Buffett suggested that: "It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price." I doubt there are many investors out there who would argue Procter & Gamble is anything but a wonderful company. The question, then, is whether you think today's price is sufficiently "fair" to justify paying up for quality.
Argus thinks it is. Citi agrees, and so do I. But what do you think? Click over to Motley Fool CAPS now, cast your vote, and help us figure this one out.
Clorox, Kimberly-Clark, and Procter & Gamble are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. The Fool owns shares of and has written covered calls on Procter & Gamble, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of (nor is he short) any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he was recently ranked No. 565 out of more than 165,000 members. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.