The broker wrap – 40 upgrades and downgrades!

Founder of FNArena
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Securities analysts in Australia have started the new calendar year with a frenzy in downgrades and upgrades and the week past delivered more of the same with no less than 40 upgrades and downgrades made to Australian listed stocks.

Much of the change came as a result of broad based sector reviews, with commodity prices and FX related marking to market exercises changing the tone of many valuation pictures. Stockbrokers otherwise got down to the more mundane task of getting back to business.

As has been the case in the early stages of January, downgrades continue to significantly outnumber upgrades. The week past saw 26 down versus only 14 up. Neutral ratings remain the largest group with a 43.81% share of total ratings.


BA-Merrill Lynch lifted Bank of Queensland (BOQ) to Buy from Neutral on improving volumes and a quicker than expected bad debt recovery. The stock remains positively regarded, with nothing but Buys and Holds in the FNArena Database. Although, the current share price is at a slight premium to consensus opinion.

It was a busy week for Billabong (BBG) after a new bid emerged and drew both Credit Suisse and JP Morgan into upgrading their calls. CS moved to Buy from Neutral, while JPM is just up to Neutral. The sentiment read in the database has pushed into positive territory, but it’s mostly on the back of potential M&A upside.

Boral (BLD) also received a double upgrade, with Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse both lifting their calls one notch to Buy on news the company plans to book $105m in cost savings. Unfortunately for Boral, the same news sparked two downgrades, with both CIMB and JP Morgan cutting to Sell. The changes see the stock at a flat Neutral sentiment in the database.

Cockatoo Coal (COK) was bumped up one notch to Buy from Neutral by Credit Suisse, as was experimental drug maker Mesoblast (MSB). The latter was lifted on a positive outcome for a Phase-2 lumbar spinal fusion trial, with the broker positive given the news means the company can now meet with the US FDA to discuss a Phase-3 trial. The stock is positively regarded in the FNArena Database, with the upgrade making it three Buys and one Hold, with 22% upside to the consensus target.

Credit Suisse also took a look at gaming stocks, upgrading Crown (CWN) from Hold to Buy and Tatts Group (TTS) from Sell to Hold. The upside for Crown comes from upgraded MPEL earnings forecasts on the back of growing momentum in Macau, while Tatts is lifted to reflect the broker’s view that shares will continue to re-rate over the months ahead. Crown boasts a near perfect sentiment in the database with seven Buys versus just one Hold, while Tatts’ record is a bit patchier, with four Holds, three Sells and just one Buy.

Commonwealth Property Office (CPA) was lifted to Hold from Sell by JP Morgan on a positive view of the A-REIT space. The broker also lifted James Hardie (JHX) to Hold from Sell, as part of a sector review that contained mostly downgrades.

JP Morgan also lifted OzMinerals (OZL) to Hold from Buy on valuation grounds, with there being more than 20% upside to the broker price target. However, a close look at the database shows only 3.3% upside to the consensus price target, while two Buys, three Sells and two Holds keep the sentiment level slightly below Neutral.

The last two upgrades are from BA-Merrill Lynch, with Gindalbie Metals (GBG) and Grange Resources (GRR) both receiving double bumps from Sell to Buy on new iron ore price expectations. The stocks both sit in positive territory sentiment wise, with mixed Buys and Holds on record.


Conversely, BA-ML downgraded Adelaide Brighton (ABC) to Sell from Neutral on an expectation the company’s growth profile will slow considerably over the coming months and this will in turn lead to a general de-rating. The downgrade leaves the stock in positive sentiment territory, with four Buys, three Holds and the new Sell call on record.

More from the A-REIT space, with JP Morgan making two moves from Neutral to Sell last week. Both Australand (ALZ) and Investa Office (IOF) were downgraded on relative valuation grounds. While the cut does little harm to ALZ, which remains in positive sentiment territory in the database, Investa has dropped well into negative territory on one Buy, two Sells and three Holds. A related view that building materials stocks have rallied too hard on hope/anticipation rather than on actual improvements in profits also sees the broker cut Fletcher Building (FBU) to Sell.

Next on the list is Woodside (WPL), Beach Energy (BPT), Roc Oil (ROC), and Horizon Oil (HZN), with UBS dropping its call on all of these stock from Buy to Hold on the view investors will remain cautious on LNG exposed stocks, given the large cost blowouts in 2012. The broker also downgraded Tox Free Solutions (TOX) following a strong rally in the share price, although UBS’ expectations remain for a strong year ahead, with growth firmly supported by last year’s Dolomatrix acquisition.

BA-Merrill Lynch downgraded a couple of Bs last week, those being BHP Billiton (BHP) and BlueScope (BSL). The broker’s view on BHP is simply that the recent run in the share price has made shares not only too expensive, but over-owned as well. Macquarie downgraded BHP last week on the belief the stock will underperform during the sector rally that it expects. The two downgrades have chipped away at sentiment for BHP stock, and while still marginally positive, it is far less so than it started the year. Meanwhile, the downgrade on BlueScope was made on the broker’s expectation of a catalyst free 1H, the high AUD, low spreads and generally weak domestic demand. Three Buys and one Hold mean the stock retains quite a positive sentiment skew in the database.

The broker also downgraded its call on Bradken (BKN), as did JP Morgan, with both cutting from Buy on valuation grounds. BA-ML went all the way down to Sell, saying improving macro sentiment and metals prices are unlikely to deliver the higher earnings/valuation needed over the medium term. While the stock remains in positive sentiment territory, the two downgrades do make a dent, with three Buys, three Holds and one Sell now on record.JP Morgan trimmed Boart Longyear (BLY) to Sell from Hold on the view current macro economic uncertainty will weigh on the share price, as miners remain conservative in their exploration capex. Four Sells, two Buys and two Holds leave the stock well in negative sentiment territory.Challenger (CGF) picked up a blemish on its near perfect scorecard, with JP Morgan dropping from Buy to Hold following the recent share price rally. The stock remains positively regarded in the database, with five Buys and two Holds on offer. Meanwhile, Citi dropped Flight Centre (FLT) to Hold on slowing departures trends, which has the broker expecting far less chance of any sort of material earnings surprises from here.Incitec Pivot (IPL) had to wear two downgrades, from Hold to Sell by Citi and from Buy to Hold by CIMB. Citi believes an underlying negative trend in the company’s end markets is emerging and this will outweigh any of the upside, while CIMB notes the share price has run 23% over the past six monthsand now sits just shy of its revised target. Sentiment for the stock nonetheless retains a positive skew, with three Holds and one Sell outweighed by four Buy calls.

CIMB and BA-ML combined in a double downgrade for UGL (UGL), with the former going from Buy to Hold and the latter dropping from Hold to Sell. BA-ML’s issue is a negative view on the FY13-14 earnings outlook, given a weak domestic macro outlook and longer term concerns about the push into property services. CIMB also cited problems with the outlook. The downgrades leave the stock at a flat neutral as far as sentiment goes.

Telstra (TLS) was cut to Sell from Neutral by CIMB on a very stretched looking valuation, which pulls the stock a little further into negative sentiment territory. Yancoal (YAL) received the same treatment from Credit Suisse, also cut to Sell from Hold on high cost production, high debt levels, limited liquidity and a dominant exposure to weaker met coal markets. Sentiment is also firmly in negative territory.

The last two we look at are both downgrades from JP Morgan. Senex Energy (SXY) is dropped to Neutral from Buy after a run in the share price, while Wesfarmers (WES) is cut to Sell from Neutral on the exact same reason. With UBS downgrading to Hold last week, the latter stock has moved firmly into negative sentiment territory, with three Sells, four Holds and just one Buy recorded.

There were a few significant jumps in target share prices recorded last week as well. BlueScope’s target jumped nearly 40% and Technology One (TNE) up more than 11%. Both were due to positive revisions by BA-ML, with the latter up on a strong product and sales pipeline. Also, Fortescue (FMG) saw its consensus target lifted by 10% as brokers look to adjust for the recent spike in iron ore prices.

The run of sector reviews on the back of new commodity prices, FX assumptions, macro outlooks etc. has played havoc with earnings forecasts across the market. The changes are outlined in the below tables and are otherwise too numerous to address on a point by point basis.

Note: FNArena monitors eight leading stockbrokers on a daily basis and the tables below are based on data analysis from the week past concerning these eight equity market experts. The eight experts in casu are: BA-Merrill Lynch, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan, Macquarie, CIMB (former RBS) and UBS.

Important: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. Consider the appropriateness of the information in regards to your circumstances.

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