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 best ...
Three-time Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation Ctrip.com (Nasdaq: CTRP) got a much-appreciated boost this morning, courtesy of an upgrade to "buy" from investment banker Piper Jaffray. Observing that Ctrip's shares have fallen 16% since the beginning of the year (that's before this morning's post-upgrade bounce), but that the Chinese don't seem to be traveling 16% less, Piper predicts that we'll see "robust" earnings for both the fourth quarter of 2007 (for which we get a report next month) and the first quarter of 2008. Says Piper, the Chinese online travel industry is accelerating, and Ctrip remains "the clear market leader ... in a fragmented travel market."

So what?
If you read my column on Human Genome Sciences yesterday, that might very well be your reaction to news of a Piper endorsement. Why dance to the tune of an investment banker that I just finished describing as "less impressive ... getting significantly more picks wrong than right"?

After all, as of today, Piper scores only a middling 70.97 CAPS rating, and has less than 44% accuracy. Nor is Piper one of those idiot savants that does one thing well while screwing up everything else. Check out its record on Chinese stocks in particular, and you'll find:

Company

Piper Said:

CAPS Says (Out of 5):

Piper's Pick Beating S&P by:

Baidu.com (Nasdaq: BIDU)

Outperform

**

61 points

Shanda Interactive (Nasdaq: SNDA)

Outperform

****

22 points

Which is all well and good until you see that Piper also picked:

Company

Piper Said:

CAPS Says:

Piper's Pick Lagging S&P by:

Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE)

Outperform

***

29 points

China Digital TV (NYSE: STV)

Outperform

***

22 points

Fushi Copperweld (Nasdaq: FSIN)

Outperform

***

12 points

New Oriental Education (NYSE: EDU)

Outperform

****

7 points

Long story short, this banker's record is as middling in the Middle Kingdom as anywhere else. So should you listen to Piper when it endorses Ctrip.com today? Especially when you know that this is a stock that the Fool itself has blessed three times, with superb results for our Hidden Gems members?

Absolutely not
Sure, Ctrip has performed admirably. It's returned an average of 202% profits per pick on three separate occasions for Hidden Gems subscribers. And sure, it's a great company -- but the price ain't.

The way I look at things, Ctrip earned $21 million in the first half of this year, which is up by almost half from what the firm earned in the first half of 2006. But when you turn to Ctrip's free cash flow (FCF), the trip you're taking takes a dark turn. The $11.6 million Ctrip generated in FCF during the first half of 2007 was less than it earned in the first half of 2006. And the $34.8 million it generated all of last year, if repeated in February, would give this company a price-to-free cash flow ratio of 96 -- much too high even for a 36%-per-year grower.

Foolish takeaway
Ctrip was a great idea, and it was a great opportunity for investors when we recommended it the first time, the second time, and the third time. But there's a reason no one says "the fourth time is the charm." This idea is played out, Fools, and it's time to put Ctrip back on the shelf until the price has cooled down some. Don't smoke this pipe. Sell Ctrip.

Does the small-cap growth team at Motley Fool Hidden Gems agree, or do they think it's Rich who's been smoking something pungent? Take a free trial of the newsletter service, read our latest write-up, and find out.

New Oriental is a recommendation of Global Gains, and both Baidu and Shanda are picks from Rule Breakers.

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. 536 out of 82,000 players. The Fool has a disclosure policy.