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 this, 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.
Welcome back, Goldman Sachs
Christmas came early for investors Wednesday, when Goldman Sachs emerged from a darkened fireplace and unwrapped a whole passel of new Internet stock recommendations. The most (in)famous name in stock picking has just acquired a new Internet guru, and he's wasting no time picking up where the last guy left off. In rapid succession, Goldman announced new buy ratings for:
(Nasdaq: EBAY)-- "well positioned to take advantage of the growth in online commerce and payments."
(Nasdaq: GRPN)-- "the Internet's key to unlocking the massive local advertising market."
(Nasdaq: PCLN)-- "macro concerns, particularly around Europe ... have brought PCLN ... down to an attractive level."
The analyst is less enthusiastic about the prospects for Pandora
The really interesting rating yesterday, though, was Goldman's recommendation to sell Yahoo!
Sum of the parts, or some of the parts?
A basket case of a business, analysts have spent the better part of the past two years honing their arguments for why Yahoo! is (or isn't) a bargain based on the value of its constituent parts. The assumption seems to have been that if the company's not worth running as a going concern, maybe it's better to chop it up and sell it off piecemeal to better managed businesses.
Depending on whom you ask, taking Yahoo! to the "equities chopshop" yields perhaps $15 or $16 worth of spare parts -- or basically what the stock's selling for right now. According to Goldman, though, Yahoo! may not be worth even that.
On the one hand, the analyst argues against "any kind of meaningful turnaround" at Yahoo! being unlikely, in light of the company's "competitive and structural headwinds." At the same time, in a wordy rebuttal to Yahoo! enthusiasts, Goldman warns: "While there is significant asset value on the balance sheet and in the company's large, though increasingly less engaged user base, we continue to believe ... that the segment of management driving the company is intent on trying to revive Yahoo as a company, regardless of the cost to shareholders."
Translation: "Unless Yahoo! sells itself, it's doomed, and Yahoo! is never going to sell itself."
Is Goldman right?
About the "never going to sell itself" part? Who knows? I have to believe that eventually, sanity will reassert itself and management will cash out. In which case, shareholders buying at today's prices shouldn't lose too much of their investment.
But as far as Yahoo! not being worth buying unless it sells itself, I wholeheartedly agree. At 18 times earnings, and a projected long-term growth rate of less than 13%, Yahoo! is clearly overvalued on a P/E basis. Worse, the company's promised cash savings from allying with Microsoft never panned out. As a result, Yahoo! is generating way less profit than its income statement lets on -- a mere $585 million over the past 12 months.
The resulting price-to-free-cash-flow ratio of nearly 32 times on Yahoo! seems wildly optimistic to me. When you consider the limited upside of a buyout scenario, the possibility this scenario will never come to fruition, and the vast overvaluation of the stock in the absence of a buyout, I honestly see little reason to own Yahoo! today -- and every reason to sell.
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