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." While the pinstripe-and-wingtip crowd is entitled to its opinions, we've got some pretty sharp stock pickers down here on Main Street, too. (And we're not always impressed with how Wall Street does its job.)
Given that, perhaps we shouldn't be giving virtual ink to "news" of analyst upgrades and downgrades. And we wouldn't -- if that were all we were doing. Fortunately, 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 track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.
"None of the above"
This morning, though, we got a series of new ratings in from an analyst that's neither obviously best nor odiously worst. I guess you could classify FBN Securities under the rubric "none of the above." This poses us a bit of a problem today, as FBN weighs in on four of the biggest names in global computing: Apple
An NYC-based institutional broker, FBN doesn't report its ratings through Briefing.com. As a result, our CAPS supercomputer has precious little data to work with in evaluating this analyst's effectiveness. (In fact, if not for the good folks at StreetInsider.com pointing out the ratings, I doubt we'd even know they happened.) But from a look at what the analyst's saying, I'm not optimistic that these new recommendations will work out.
Computer stocks: Buy the numbers
According to FBN, every one of these four stocks -- except HP -- is a "buy" today. Problem is, the numbers I'm looking at make this a pretty iffy proposition. I've actually been watching these companies closely these past few months, weighing each as potential a potential addition to my personal portfolio. Problem is, only one of them has actually hit a valuation that I'd call "cheap."
Is it IBM? In a word, "no." I'll admit that at 14 times earnings, 13.8 times free cash flow, and paying a tidy 1.8% dividend yield, IBM intrigues me. (That's why I've been looking to buy it, after all.) IBM's certainly cheaper than Accenture
What about IBM's up-and-coming rival in the enterprise IT space, Dell? At under 10 times earnings, the stock certainly looks like a bargain, and unlike IBM, Dell sports a balance sheet brimming with net cash. The problem here is that Dell's an even slower grower than IBM, pegged by Wall Street for just 6% annual earnings growth over the next five years. Sure, the company could juice that by buying Brocade
So Hewlett, then? It's growing faster than Dell. It costs less than Dell. Best of all, it's the only stock that FBN seems to dislike, and considering the problems we've seen in its picks so far ...
HP's problem is that it's just not generating enough free cash flow to entice me -- about $9.1 billion over the past 12 months, which is less than reported GAAP earnings. (And as I've warned in the past, I've also got a few concerns about its business plan and its troubling tendency to give away talented executives to Oracle
The Apple of my eye
No, Fools, when you get right down to it, the only stock of the four FBN's now covering that I like is Apple. Here we've got the premier name in mobile personal computing, selling for 15 times earnings and generating absolute monster free cash flow. Investors are dumping Apple for no apparent reason. Best of all, it's growing about twice as fast as the second fastest grower on FBN's shopping list (IBM) and more than three times as fast as Dell.
That's why Apple's still the apple of my eye -- and the only one of the four that I might still buy.
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of (or short) any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 449 out of more than 170,000 members. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle, International Business Machines, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Accenture, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple.
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