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 go behind the scenes of the latest ratings, pulling analysts' records out into the light of day -- so you can tell whether they're worth listening to at all. And in Get to Know a Guru, we use that upgrade news as a springboard to introduce you to some of the lesser-known names in analyst-land.

Profiles in punditry
An unfamiliar name (to me, at least) popped up on MSN Money's tally of analyst upgrades & downgrades yesterday. The chart highlighted FTN Midwest Securities as gracing shares of AMD (NYSE:AMD), the chipmaker and perpetual thorn in Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) side, with an upgrade to "buy." If you're wondering just who the heck FTN Midwest is, and what they know about semiconductors, well, you're not alone.

According to Motley Fool CAPS:

Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, FTN Midwest is an institutional equity research firm. FTN Midwest provides research on a variety of different sectors including consumer, health care, technology, business and financial services. Research analysts conduct Independent Market Research (IMR) and often visit companies, their factories, suppliers and other first-hand sources in putting together the reports.

That's the dime tour on FTN. But before we examine its record, let me walk you through a few more levels of subsidiary-ity here. Combing through the files of Capital IQ and Hoover's, I discovered that FTN Midwest Securities is at the end of a chain that begins with Memphis-based grandparent company First Horizon National (NYSE:FHN), then runs through (in order) FHN subsidiary First Tennessee Bank National Association, then FTN Financial Group, before shifting westwards and coming to rest at FTN Midwest. Now you know.

Are these guys any good?
So much for the firm's biography -- we really want to know about its resume. When FTN Midwest speaks, should investors listen?

The firm's record on CAPS suggests that might well be prudent. FTN may not be the best or the most profilic stock rater in the business, but its record isn't half bad. With an aesthetically pleasing CAPS rating of 92.92, and a history of making correct calls about twice as often as it goofs, FTN is well on its way to becoming an outperformer. Its limited record to date includes:

FTN says:

CAPS says:

FTN's pick beating (lagging) S&P by:




36 points

Champion (NYSE:CHB)



32 points

Amerigroup (NYSE:AGP)



8 points

Palm Harbor Homes (NASDAQ:PHHM)



(8 points)

As for AMD in particular, though, I'd hesitate to rely on FTN's record. The firm bills "technology" as one of the sectors it covers. Yet to date, the only tech picks we've got on record for FTN in the eight months CAPS has been up and operating are... AMD and Intel, which both received outperform ratings yesterday.

That's hardly a long enough history for us to brand FTN a tech-stock-picking powerhouse based on its CAPS score alone. My advice: Give this one some time to season before taking FTN's word as gospel in the tech realm.

In the meantime, if you'd like to hear from an analyst with a truly stellar record of calling AMD right, click on over to the company's CAPS page. There you'll learn that the Fool's own TMFSkiii has the pole position on this stock. To learn what he thinks about it, just click here.

And if semiconductor investing is your thing, don't forget to pick up a free trial subscription to Motley Fool Inside Value on your way out. We've weighted Intel against AMD, and chosen one of the two as the more likely winner. Want to read about our findings? Simply click here for a free trial to the service.

Amerigroup is a Stock Advisor recommendation. First Horizon National is an Income Investor selection. 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 249th out of more than 27,000 raters. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.