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." In our recurring column "This Just In," we cover the most headline-worthy upgrades and downgrades, testing the analysts' logic and examining their records to help you decide whether they're worth listening to at all.

In "Get to Know a Guru," we go another route. Here, we use upgrade and downgrade news as a springboard to introduce you to some of the lesser-known names in analyst-land. Up this week: Collins Stewart.

Profiles in punditry
An unfamiliar name (to me, at least) popped up on MSN Money's tally of analyst downgrades on Wednesday, when a place named "Collins Stewart plc" downgraded Ceragon Networks (NYSE:CRNT) from "buy" to "underperform." If you're wondering just what Collins Stewart is, and how much it knows about Israeli providers of "wireless backhaul solutions" -- or whether it even knows what the heck those might be -- then you're not alone.

On the second question, you're welcome to read all about Ceragon Networks, and why we like it, when you sign up for a free 30-day trial of our Motley Fool Hidden Gems service. On the first question -- the identity of Collins Stewart -- well, that's the kind of thing I can help with. So without further ado, let's ...

Get to know this guru
If you haven't heard of Collins Stewart, chances are that you, like me, don't live in London -- because that's where Collins Stewart is based. The brokerage was founded in 1991 in partnership with Singer & Friedlander, and then it was freed in 2000 through a management buyout, only to be merged with Tullett Liberty and Prebon Group in 2003 and 2004, respectively. After its latest iteration was spun back into independence just last year, the firm promptly turned around and bought itself a new subsidiary this past May, in the form of U.S. brokerage CE Unterberg Towbin

While Collins Stewart occasionally announces upgrades and downgrades, public research doesn't appear to be a major focus at this brokerage -- or at least it hasn't been in the past. After tracking the firm for one year on Motley Fool CAPS, we still have Collins Stewart down for only four recommendations, including Wednesday's. Considering that we require players to make seven public recommendations before we give them a CAPS rating, Collins Stewart remains a mystery.

More's the pity, because I'll bet the score would look pretty good. So far, Collins Stewart has been batting 1.000:

Stock

Collins Stewart Says:

CAPS Says (out of 5):

Collins Stewart's Pick Beating S&P by:

Ceragon

Underperform

*****

10 points

Comtech Telecom (NASDAQ:CMTL)

Outperform

*****

4 points

Emcore (NASDAQ:EMKR)

Outperform

***

25 points

Opnet Tech (NASDAQ:OPNT)

Outperform

****

8 points

Change a-comin'
That could change, however, for both the better and the worse. Try as I might, I was unable to find a page clearly describing Collins Stewart's analyst team, research philosophy, or areas of focus through any direct links on its website. A Google search for the firm's name, plus "research," however, revealed something that's perhaps even more interesting: evidence that Collins Stewart does indeed have a research department -- and that its name is the aforementioned CE Unterberg Towbin

On a webpage rife with non sequiturs, branded in Collins Stewart's color scheme but with the URL http://www.unterberg.com/research/index.asp, we learn the following:

Collins Stewart has earned its stature in the technology and health care equities business by managing initial public offerings for companies -- like Intel and Compaq -- that are now best-of-breed leaders. We remain as committed as ever to identifying and understanding opportunities -- and where the false starts are -- in the emerging technology and health care sectors. Accordingly, research is an Unterberg cornerstone: We leverage the department's work throughout the firm. [Emphasis added all three times.]

My guess, therefore, is that it won't be long before we need to remove "Collins Stewart" from the CAPS roll call and replace it with "CE Unterberg." Or vice versa. Either way, the former firm's minimalist recommendation list, and its enviable record of 100% accuracy, will soon be history. In their place will stand CE Unterberg's recommendations, and record of:

  • sub-50% accuracy ...
  • but a respectable 77.51 CAPS rating ...
  • helped by recommendations that include two clean triples in Sigma Designs (NASDAQ:SIGM) and Force Protection (NASDAQ:FRPT), and a pair of doubles in Ceragon and Shanda Interactive (NASDAQ:SNDA).

While we'll miss the 100% accuracy, I still suspect that investors could do a whole lot worse than listen to these guys.

I also suspect that the growth-stock hunters at Motley Fool Rule Breakers would agree. Three of Unterberg's top four performers -- Force Protection, Sigma Designs, and Shanda -- just happen to be Rule Breakers picks as well.

Intel is an Inside Value pick.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 1,203 out of more than 65,000 players. The Fool has a disclosure policy.