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 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 worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the best...
Several months ago, I opined, "Like the teens experiencing their first high school crush, there's nothing so cute as bankers in love." I suppose, then, that the converse to that statement would be that nothing's so heartrending as a banker break-up.

In August, I was writing about how one very good analyst, Calyon Securities, had just upgraded the shares of fellow financier Capital One (NYSE:COF) from "like" to "love." Today, we're seeing sentiment -- and shares -- heading the other way as the even-better analyst Jefferies & Co. downgraded Capital One from "love" to "I'm so over him."

According to Jefferies, Capital One is "showing the strain of a slowing U.S. consumer and overall economy." Delinquencies are rising in the firm's loan portfolio, and on Wednesday, Capital One announced it would have to write off 3.52% of its loans outstanding as unlikely to ever be repaid (an increase from the previous month's estimate.) While admitting that the stock looks cheap today, Jefferies argues that "sharply deteriorating consumer credit puts future earnings at greater risk."

In other words, we're going to see both delinquencies and write-offs grow as consumers get further pinched. As a result, Jefferies doesn't agree with its capitalist colleagues that Capital One will be able to grow its profits at 11% per year over the next five years. Hence, the stock's P/E of 10 is not as cheap as it seems.

Dueling bankers
So who's right and who's wrong here? For clues to the bankers' proficiency at rating one of their own, we turn to CAPS for a glimpse at their respective records. What we find there is, when judged by the accuracy of their picks, Jefferies holds a slight lead over Calyon. Jefferies gets slightly more picks right than wrong (52%); Calyon is basically 50/50.

CAPS rating-wise, however, Jefferies magnifies its 2-percentage-point accuracy edge over Calyon by tracking a whole lot more stocks and racking up more points on its right guesses than it loses on its wrong. For example:


Jefferies Says:

CAPS Says:

Jefferies' Pick Beating (Lagging) S&P by:

Nasdaq Stock Market (NASDAQ:NDAQ)



23 points

T. Rowe Price




2 points

CompuCredit (NASDAQ:CCRT)



(78 points)

Nice job on Nasdaq, but hmm ... the one foray Jefferies made into credit service company CompuCredit didn't work out so well. But is Calyon any better?

Calyon Says:

CAPS Says:

Calyon's Pick Beating (Lagging) S&P by:

MasterCard (NYSE:MA)



100 points

Discover (NYSE:DFS)



(12 points)

American Express (NYSE:AXP)



(14 points)

Apparently not. Calyon hopped aboard the MasterCard express early on, but similar bullishness over Discover and American Express has not been rewarded. Ever worse, if you check on Calyon's record on Capital One in particular, you'll find that before it upgraded the stock to "buy" in August 2007, it first upgraded it to "add" in October 2006 (and by the way, I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me how an investor is to go about adding shares to his portfolio without buying them.) Since that initial October 2006 endorsement, Capital One's stock has cost Calyon 51 points' worth of market underperformance. Ouch.

Foolish takeaway
So after digesting all of the above information, what are we left with? Sadly, I think the sum total of what we've learned is this: Ignore both of these analysts. Calyon's record on credit card companies is just short of miserable (MasterCard excepted). Jefferies, while a great stock picker overall, bombed on the one credit card company pick that we've captured on CAPS. Hardly a ringing endorsement of yesterday's Capital One call.

With today's players being of little help, for yours Fool-y, it comes down to this: Over the years, Capital One has proven itself an exceptional credit card company. Granted, recently, it's proven itself a really bad retail banker, too. But do you believe management can right its ship and get back to doing what it does well? I do. If you agree, then Capital One is starting to look attractively priced today.

Disagree? Feel free. Come on over to CAPS and tell us why you think the worst is yet to come for Capital One.

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. 1,355 out of more than 41,000 rated players. CompuCredit is a Stock Advisor pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.