While Fools should generally take the opinion of Wall Street with a grain of salt, it's not a bad idea to take a closer look at particularly stock-shaking upgrades and downgrades – just in case the reasoning behind the call makes sense.
What: Shares of crane maker Manitowoc (MTW -5.57%) exploded in early trade today, gaining as much as 6% after Morgan Stanley upgraded the stock to overweight from equal weight. Simply put, the research company expects the stock to outperform the industry over the next 12-18 months.
So what: Encouraged by the positive results from Morgan Stanley's AlphaWise crane rental survey and the recent uptick in non-residential construction activity, analyst Thomas Robb raised his price target on Manitowoc stock to $30 a share. That represents a good 25% upside from the stock's current price of around $24. Morgan Stanley also finds the stock relatively undervalued when compared to the valuation it enjoyed during the crane market's "last recovery," hence the bullishness.
Now what: Interestingly, Robert W. Baird also upgraded its price target on Manitowoc stock to $30 just yesterday, and Jeffries believes that Manitowoc is well poised to take advantage of the expected bounce back in non-residential construction activity this year. In other words, more and more analysts are getting bullish about the company's prospects.
The AIA Architecture Billing Index, a leading indicator of non-residential construction activity, rose steadily for six months through October last year, only to slow down a bit in November. In another encouraging sign, McGraw Hill Construction's Dodge Momentum Index, another barometer for non-residential projects, climbed to its highest since March 2009 in November last year. At the same time, November housing starts in the U.S. were 29.6% higher year over year. These numbers confirm the strong uptrend in construction activity across the board, which is great news for Manitowoc.
Morgan Stanley also expects orders to climb by double digits at the ConExpo in Las Vegas in March. Held every three years, the exhibition, which showcases new products and technologies from across the construction industry, is a good benchmark to gauge the order rate and sentiments of the industry players.
In a nutshell, a recovering crane market should push Manitowoc's sales higher. But crane utilization rates still remain low, and China is emerging as a strong competitor with its cheaper cranes. While those factors could well be overshadowed if construction activity continues to rise this year, a slow food-service-equipment business could clobber Manitowoc's profits.
That said, any downturn appears temporary, and Manitowoc still makes a great long-term bet. Today's fresh analyst upgrade should only encourage you to get the stock on your watchlist so you don't miss an opportunity to dive in.
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