Shares of the generator maker Generac (NYSE:GNRC) surged 71% during 2013, yet they seem to have lost their spark in 2014. As of Friday, they've fallen 17% year to date.
While Generac's yet to report earnings, the speculation on Wall Street indicates the market could be underwhelmed by its fourth quarter. Should individual investors be wary of the stock? Let's take a closer look.
The downgrade deluge
Generac's recent sell-off seems to be a direct result of back-to-back-to-back downgrades. In the past few weeks, three investment shops have voiced concern over the price of Generac's shares and changed their views heading into 2014. Here's the run-down on what each had to say.
Stifel Nicolaus: The first downgrade came on Jan. 8, when Stifel Nicolaus took Generac's shares down a notch from buy to hold. Stifel might have started the wave, but it provided little insight into its recent change of heart. Reports simply cited "valuation" as the rationale.
Oppenheimer: On Jan. 17, Oppenheimer downgraded Generac shares from outperform to perform. As my colleague Brian Pacampara pointed out, analyst Christopher Glynn at Oppenheimer believes the risks facing Generac in 2014 are not adequately priced into the stock at its current value. Specifically, Generac's plowing investments into its commercial and industrial segment, which is a good thing for future growth, but Glynn believes this will limit earnings per share in 2014 to the low-end of consensus expectations. Glynn believes 2014 earnings per share could reach $3.40 but are unlikely to hit the consensus average of $3.80 per share.
Bank of America: On Jan. 24, Bank of America downgraded Generac from a buy rating to a neutral rating, lowering its price target from $58 per share to $54 per share. Analysts at the bank provided additional insight into their rationale:
We heard back from 29 standby generator dealers around the US. Assuming no major outages, the blended results suggest flattish order activity over the next six months, though we did see modest deterioration with only 34% projecting positive order growth versus 40% last quarter ... About 40% projected flattish growth with 31% guiding to negative orders versus 28% last quarter.
Of all three reports, Bank of America's provides the only new insight into the market, but investors should take this news with a grain of salt. Bank of America's view seems heavily dependent on a standalone survey of only 29 generator dealers across the entire country. That's a limited sample set reflecting only a 6% difference in sentiment at those dealers.
In the meantime, there have been no new developments – to my knowledge – of a change in the fundamentals at Generac. And, as my colleague Jim Mueller described last year, there's a lot to like about Generac's underlying business.
With Generac set to report earnings in early February, investors ought to ignore this recent streak of downgrades; it might just be a blip in the radar. We'll find out how this winter season held up for Generac in just a few weeks. At Generac's currently low forward price-to-earnings ratio of 12.4, I think Generac shareholders can rest easy for now.