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This Just In: Upgrades and Downgrades

By Rich Smith - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 8:08PM

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Citi banks on Bankrate.

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'll be tracking the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the worst ...
Markets are plunging around the globe, so why are Motley Fool Rule Breakers members smiling today? Simple -- Citigroup upgraded one of our favorite stocks, financial data provider (NASDAQ:RATE), and as everyone else drops 5% and more, Bankrate is up 5% as of this writing.

Pointing to a sudden drop in the cost of 30-year mortgages, and predicting a wave of refinancing by home owners in response, Citi logically concludes that "the recent surge in national refi activity should benefit RATE." Moreover, Citi believes Bankrate will garner greater advertising revenues after it relaunches its website to allow "dynamic content management" -- a development expected to take place within the next few months.

But that's not all. Savvy to the ways of the market, Citi points to one final factor that could pour jetfuel on this fire: "32% of the stock's float is sold short." As Bankrate shares rise in response to Citi's upgrade, shorts are being squeezed and closing their positions by buying back shares, creating a virtuous cycle of rising prices. (Can you say "self-fulfilling prophecy?")

Let's go to the tape
But just how good a prophet is Citi, anyway? At first glance, you might not think the banker's all that: Right now, it's ranking in the bottom 20% of investors tracked by CAPS, caught wrong-footed by a savage market on 54% of its stock picks.

It's not that Citi's picking lousy companies, necessarily -- but even assuming the stocks it likes are good (and CAPS members think they are), Citi's not always being rewarded for its insight:


Citi Said:

CAPS Says:

Citi's Pick Lagging S&P by:




33 points

NYSE Euronext (NYSE:NYX)



37 points

Halliburton (NYSE:HAL)



37 points

On the other hand, Citi has done a fine job calling the downturn in autos, and notched at least one victory (also on the sell-side) in the financial sphere wherein Bankrate dwelleth:


Citi Said:

CAPS Says:

Citi's Pick Lagging S&P by:

General Motors (NYSE:GM)



19 points

Ford (NYSE:F)



21 points




36 points

Still and all, I have to say that the dearth of high-scoring e-commerce and financial data recommendations on Citi's scorecard leaves me unimpressed with the banker's skill in picking financial stocks. (Almost as unimpressed as investors are with Citi's skill in financing itself.)

Buy the numbers
Fortunately, you don't have to be a genius to see that Bankrate's a buy. The numbers speak for themselves.

Bankrate's 26 P/E may not strike you as particularly cheap, but if you take the time to examine the firm's cash flow statement, you'll quickly see that GAAP doesn't tell the whole tale about this company. Over the past 12 months, Bankrate has generated a whopping $35.5 million in free cash flow, dwarfing the $21 million in "profit" it reported under GAAP. Based on that, the stock is selling for a low 15x multiple -- quite an attractive number relative to analyst expectations of 23% long-term growth.

Foolish takeaway
What's more, if you net out Bankrate's bank account -- the $41 million in crisp green bills on its balance sheet, the true price of the business per se is even cheaper. Long-story short, Bankrate offers us a screaming bargain at today's prices. (Yes, even after the post-upgrade run-up.)

Based on that and Citi’s call, I would consider selling the house and (maybe) mortgaging the kids while looking further at Bankrate.

Bankrate and NYSE Euronext are Motley Fool Rule Breakers selections.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any companies named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 878 out of more than 120,000 members. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Bankrate, Inc. Stock Quote
Bankrate, Inc.
Ford Motor Company Stock Quote
Ford Motor Company
$15.83 (2.13%) $0.33
General Motors Company Stock Quote
General Motors Company
$38.46 (1.34%) $0.51
Rio Tinto plc Stock Quote
Rio Tinto plc
$59.98 (1.59%) $0.94
E*TRADE Financial Corporation Stock Quote
E*TRADE Financial Corporation
NYSE Holdings LLC Stock Quote
NYSE Holdings LLC
Halliburton Company Stock Quote
Halliburton Company
$29.57 (4.08%) $1.16

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