Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Motley Fool: St. Jude Medical Inc.: In-Line Is Just Not Good Enough

It's hard to call it a bad thing when Wall Street likes a stock, but rising expectations can create problems of their own. St. Jude Medical (NYSE: STJ  ) seems to have done a good job of selling the Street on the idea that it has turned over a new leaf and that accelerating growth is around the corner.

Sell-side price targets are about 20% higher now than at the beginning of 2014, and the buy/hold/sell recommendation breakdown has moved from 11-10-3 to 14-8-2 over the past three months, though the EPS targets for 2014 and 2015 have hardly budged. That optimism may well explain why St. Jude's "good enough" first quarter wasn't quite good enough for investors.

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St. Jude Medical Inc.: In-Line Is Just Not Good Enough

The Motley Fool: Abbott Labs Earnings: Still Marking Time

Like many other large med-tech companies, Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT  ) remains an exercise in frustration right now. There are pressures throughout most of the company's business lines, with only the diagnostics business really showing much growth. Although Abbott's results were a bit weak compared to expectations, analysts and investors knew that the company was going to go through this lull and longer-term expectations are still fairly bullish.

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Abbott Labs Earnings: Still Marking Time

Seeking Alpha: Frustrating To Value, Bank Of The Ozarks Keeps Growing

Valuing normal banks on the basis of their returns on tangible equity, tangible book value, and long-term returns on equity usually works pretty well. For better and for worse, Bank of the Ozarks (OZRK) is not at all a "normal bank" and investors have to make their peace with a demanding valuation to take part in a very strong, very well-run bank growth story.

The growth side of Bank of the Ozarks looks fine. While the company is seeing more competition for lending, the bank's capabilities in specialty and complex real estate lending sets it apart. Bank of the Ozarks also has the option to expand its leasing operations and use its equity to expand its asset base. It's tough to put together a valuation model that goes much past the low $60s for these shares, but I don't have any particular expectation of getting them cheap while the growth story remains intact.

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Frustrating To Value, Bank Of The Ozarks Keeps Growing

Seeking Alpha: Even After A Little Rally, Credicorp Could Have More Headroom

Shares of Peru's largest bank, Credicorp (BAP) have spent the last six months basically just hanging around, with the shares wobbling between $125 and $140. Investors have been mulling over changes in Peru's economy, the de-dollarization of the banking sector, loan growth and default trends, as well as company-specific issues like recent disappointments in earnings and the promising acquisition of Mibanco.

I hope it goes almost without saying that investing in a Peruvian bank carries certain risks above and beyond your typical investment, though clearly investing in banks like Citigroup (C) and so on is hardly risk-free. This looks like a well-run bank, though, and a company that is structured to benefit from both the growth of the Peruvian economy and the maturation of the Peruvian financial sector. Shares appear undervalued on both an ROE and book value basis, with upside to $160 on relatively conservative assumptions.

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Even After A Little Rally, Credicorp Could Have More Headroom

Seeking Alpha: WEX Still Has Good Growth Prospects, But A Fair Valuation

Shares of corporate payments specialist WEX (WEX) have hardly been still over the last six months, trading between $80 and $101 and sporting a beta (according to Yahoo! Finance) of 1.96. Even so, they are almost exactly where they were when I wrote that the company was a well-run player in attractive markets, but that the shares seemed a little expensive.

WEX has made some important moves since October, including acquiring operations in Brazil and acquiring Exxon Mobil's (XOM) European ESSO card business, but actual organic transaction growth has been fairly sluggish and the company's B2B virtual MasterCard (MA) program is still a faster-growing work in progress. I do see multiple opportunities for WEX to do better, but there's already a meaningful amount of growth baked into the share price and I still find myself wishing for a better entry price.

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WEX Still Has Good Growth Prospects, But A Fair Valuation

Seeking Alpha: XL Group Plc Is Over-Reserved, But Not That Undervalued

XL Group plc (XL) may have nearly gone out of business during the worst of the credit crisis, but in the time since the company has done a pretty decent job of repairing its capital situation, even if at a high cost in terms of dilution. The bigger question today is whether the company can generate substantially better results for the long-term - while the company looks over-reserved and over-capitalized, the nature of its underwriting may well limit the upside.

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XL Group Plc Is Over-Reserved, But Not That Undervalued

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Motley Fool: How Much Has Merck Shaken Up the Hepatitis C Race?

Even the wildest Gilead (NASDAQ: GILD  ) bulls seemed to acknowledge that the company was not going to grab and hold 100% share of the hepatitis C (HCV) market. Now the question seems to be shifting to just how much share rivals like AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV  ) , Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) , Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY  ) , Johnson & Johnson, and others can credibly hope to gain.

Recent data presentations at EASL continue to support the notion that Gilead has the best regimen for treatment-naive patients with the most common HCV genotypes in North America and Western Europe. AbbVie and Merck are looking increasingly competitive in more challenging patients, though. What's more, Gilead's decision to pursue aggressive pricing for its regimen, and the resistance of groups like Express Scripts, raises the question of whether price may prove to be a competitive option.

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How Much Has Merck Shaken Up the Hepatitis C Race?

The Motley Fool: Johnson & Johnson's Earnings Report Impresses

If you're going to have a "messy" quarter, you probably couldn't do it much better than Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) did in the first quarter. Devices and Consumer continue to log disappointing results, but the higher-margin Pharma business is more than making up the difference. Priced for total annual returns in the mid-to-high single digits, Johnson & Johnson isn't the cheapest health care play these days, but it remains a good all-weather pick with one of the best-growing large drug franchises. 

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Johnson & Johnson's Earnings Report Impresses

The Motley Fool: This Forgotten Pharma Could Be a Hit for Your Portfolio

Within the world of Big Pharma, Roche (NASDAQOTH: RHHBY  ) offers a pretty compelling mix. Not only does Roche have one of the strongest oncology platforms today, it also offers one of the deepest pipelines. The company's non-oncology pipeline is not as strong in volume, but could well make up for that in quality if a couple of high-risk trials go the right way. Roche's modest debt and large cash generation capability also raises the prospect of M&A as biotech valuations quickly become more reasonable.

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This Forgotten Pharma Could Be a Hit for Your Portfolio

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Motley Fool: Edwards Lifesciences Corp Scores A Potentially Major Legal Ruling Against Medtronic

If a court ruling made late on Friday holds up, the battle for market share in the U.S. between Edwards Lifesciences'  (NYSE: EW  ) Sapien family of transcatheter heart valves and Medtronic's (NYSE: MDT  ) CoreValve may be over before it begins. In a rare move for the med-tech industry, a judge granted a motion for a preliminary injunction against sales of the CoreValve that would effectively put Medtronic on ice until at least 2016. Medtronic is going to fight this decision, but it definitely seems likely to reignite optimism for Edwards' position in this market.

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Edwards Lifesciences Corp Scores A Potentially Major Legal Ruling Against Medtronic

Seeking Alpha: Orchids Paper Products A Paper Tiger, But In A Good Way

When I last wrote about Orchids Paper Products (TIS) in October, I expressed a lot of respect and admiration for this well-run paper products company, but thought the valuation was a bit steep. I'm not going to claim that I got that part right; the shares rose another 20% or so from where I wrote and it was only a sharp three-day drop in Orchids' stock that brought it back down again. I still do not believe that these shares are all that cheap, but it's hard not to like a company with a credible growth plan and a solid dividend.

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Orchids Paper Products A Paper Tiger, But In A Good Way

Seeking Alpha: Cal Dive Still Waiting For That Offshore Recovery

There are more than a couple of ways to make Cal Dive (DVR) look cheap. If you look the book value of the company's vessels, it might be tempting to call the stock undervalued on the basis of its liquidation value. Likewise, if you look at past utilization rates and EBITDA margins, it can be tempting to base a strong bull argument on the basis of substantial earnings leverage once Gulf of Mexico activity levels recover.

I'm not nailing down the coffin lid on Cal Dive, but I do see this stock as a more speculative play on better offshore activity levels in the Gulf. The nature of offshore support functions is changing, and I believe it favors companies like Oceaneering (OII), Chouset, Subsea 7, Saipem, and Technip (OTCQX:TKPPY) as more work goes to ROVs and deepwater projects. Projects are starting to move forward, though, and Gulf rival Tetra Technologies (TTI) has sounded relatively bullish on near-term prospects. If Cal Dive can get more of its fleet working in FY 2014 and continue to move back toward mid-teens EBITDA margins, a substantially higher share price is possible.

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Cal Dive Still Waiting For That Offshore Recovery

Seeking Alpha: More Positive News For Lexicon, But Not The Big Announcement

Lexicon Pharmaceuticals (LXRX) continues to generate data on its SGLT-1/2 inhibitor LX4211 that suggest this is an effective and promising medication for treating not only Type 2 diabetes (the common target for non-insulin medications for diabetes), but also Type 1 as well. Lexicon's most recent update, a small short-term Phase II study in Type 1 diabetics is certainly a positive update, but it's not what investors really want to see. Lexicon still needs to find a development partner for LX4211 and the ongoing delays don't help sentiment or the long-term prospects for the drug.

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More Positive News For Lexicon, But Not The Big Announcement

Seeking Alpha: Titan Machinery Needs More Than Short Covering

It's always worth remembering that there is more to a stock's performance than just the reported financials. In the case of Titan Machinery (TITN), fiscal fourth quarter results were not all that greater and there are still real issues with the business model. Investors liked what they heard about cost-cutting in the next year, though, and with Yahoo! Finance showing about one-third of the float held short, it looks like a short squeeze helped catapult the shares last week.

I saw value up to the high teens on a cash flow-basis last time I wrote, and I still see a similar fair value after this latest quarter. I don't like the model, though, and I think investors have better options for playing bullish outlooks for agriculture and/or construction equipment demand.

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Titan Machinery Needs More Than Short Covering

Seeking Alpha: PTC Therapeutics Looks Like A High-Risk Play On Rare Diseases

With money and momentum flowing out of the biotech sector, there are going to be a lot of beaten-down diamonds in the rough amidst the wreckage. I'm not entirely convinced PTC Therapeutics (PTCT) is a diamond, or at least not yet. While the company's lead compound ataluren has a lot of promise, there some serious questions and concerns about the drug. Bulls are right about the high-end potential here, but prior trial failures shouldn't be ignored.

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PTC Therapeutics Looks Like A High-Risk Play On Rare Diseases

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Motley Fool: What's Behind Intuitive Surgical Inc's Revenue Miss?

If surgical robot pioneer Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG  ) is going to keep its heady med-tech growth stock multiple, it has to do better than this. After logging just 4% revenue growth in 2013, Intuitive's announcement of a 24% drop to start 2014 is certainly not a step in the right direction. Some of the trouble may well be from transitory issues like weather and delays tied to hospitals awaiting new product rollouts, but Wall Street is not a forgiving place when high multiple growth stories stop delivering that growth.

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What's Behind Intuitive Surgical Inc's Revenue Miss?

Seeking Alpha: Impala Platinum Seeing Short-Term Pain For Uncertain Gains

As was the case when I wrote about South African platinum producer Aquarius (OTCPK:AQPTY), I can't help but feel a little sorry for management Impala Platinum (OTCQX:IMPUY) (also known as "Implats"). Dealing with the rapacious government in Zimbabwe was more than enough of a headache, and now the top three South African platinum producers are dealing with an extended strike that is running down their inventories and threatening significant cost increases over the coming years.

At some point the strike in South Africa will end and Implats, Anglo American Platinum (OTCPK:AGPPY), and Lonmin plc (OTCPK:LNMIY) will get back to business. The strike is likely running down global platinum inventories, but there is certainly the risk that higher wage costs at notoriously labor-intensive mines will weigh on the sector for years. Barring yet another attempt from the government of Zimbabwe to shake down the platinum miners, I would argue that Implats offers an investors a rocky short-term road, but decent value for the long-term.

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Impala Platinum Seeing Short-Term Pain For Uncertain Gains

Seeking Alpha: AngioDynamics Delivering The Growth, Margins Next?

When it comes to publicly-traded companies, growth fixes a lot of issues and AngioDynamics's (ANGO) return to revenue growth has seen the stock outperform nicely over the past year. There are certainly considerable challenges left for AngioDynamics management, including taking share from Bard (BCR) and Teleflex (TFX) in vascular access and maximizing the value of newer offerings like BioFlo and AngioVac. Efforts to restructure the business and generate better margins are likewise a big part of the bull thesis.

These shares are still in that grey area of "strong hold" for me. The shares don't appear all that cheap by discounted cash flow, even giving management the benefit of the doubt on margins, but the EV/revenue multiple is quite low and this is often the number that institutional investors follow. So long as the company can post better growth numbers and keep the margin improvement story alive, I would think retesting the high teens is a credible expectation.

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AngioDynamics Delivering The Growth, Margins Next?

Seeking Alpha: MSC Industrial Continues To See An Early Cyclical Recovery

While the bad winter weather early this year certainly had an impact on some businesses, it doesn't seem to have hurt the industrial distribution businesses as much feared. MSC Industrial (MSM) didn't see the same level of growth in its most recent quarter that HD Supply (HDS) did, and the company did miss the published average sell-side revenue target, but many analysts had this stock's earnings pegged as a likely disappointment.

Instead of disappointing the Street, MSC Industrial gave a relatively encouraging update regarding the U.S. manufacturing sector and its business. Business still is far from rampant recovery levels, but the company's efforts to add sales associates and SKUs seem to be progressing on plan, as is the integration of the large BDNA deal. The expected returns here are looking increasingly ordinary, though, so I can't really pound the table as hard on this stock today as in past articles.

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MSC Industrial Continues To See An Early Cyclical Recovery

Seeking Alpha: Quality Doesn't Come Dirt-Cheap With Franco-Nevada

I'm not a gold bug by any stretch, but I do like the basic business model pursued by precious metal royalty companies like Franco-Nevada (FNV), Royal Gold (RGLD), and Silver Wheaton (SLW). By providing financing to mining companies and getting a low-cost cut of their metal production in exchange, these companies offer leverage to precious metal prices and better diversification of operating risks. They're also something of a "heads I win, tails I don't really lose" proposition, as periods of weaker metal prices limit miners' financing options and allow royalty companies to set up new agreements on better terms.

The long and short of it is that I believe Franco-Nevada offers a pretty efficient way to gain exposure to precious metals. The company has generally outperformed gold in good times and bad and also offers a dividend stream - addressing one of the major complaints with precious metal investments. These shares are not exactly cheap at around 1.9x NAV, but that's a little below the middle of the historical range for a company with a good operating history and solid production growth prospects in the future.

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Quality Doesn't Come Dirt-Cheap With Franco-Nevada

Seeking Alpha: Summer Infant Looking To Get Smaller, Smarter, And More Profitable

Picking Summer Infant (SUMR) as a Top Idea in mid-October of 2013 has been a boneheaded move so far, as the stock has declined about 25%. Summer Infant's share price weakness has come in response to greater-than-expected struggles to migrate away from low-margin licensed business and reduce SKU counts.

With new management in place, Summer Infant is continuing its basic strategic decision to slim down and refocus itself around a smaller number of more profitable, more competitive SKUs. This is not an unusual or uncommon phase in prior growth-by-acquisition stories, but the process can be difficult and stretch on longer than investors' patience. Summer Infant has a long way to go before it is a more credible threat to Dorel Industries (OTCPK:DIIBF), Newell Rubbermaid's (NWL) Graco, or Mattel's (MAT) Fisher-Price, but Summer Infant doesn't have to become the best to be better.

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Summer Infant Looking To Get Smaller, Smarter, And More Profitable

Seeking Alpha: EnerNOC Working, But The Outlook Still Cloudy

I liked demand response and energy management company EnerNOC (ENOC) six months ago and the stock has done well since, rising about 40% as the brutal winter weather brought attention back to the advantages of electricity demand response. I still like this company, particularly as the company shifts its attention to international DR markets and the sizable opportunities in providing enterprises with tools to better analyze and manage their energy needs.

The prime issue with EnerNOC remains the volatile regulatory environment. PJM Interconnection, a major source of EnerNOC's revenue, is serious about altering its rules for demand response and those changes threaten a meaningful portion of today's revenue and cash flow. Over time the company's efforts to diversify and the underlying advantages of DR should smooth this out, but the company's reported performance could be erratic in the meantime. That complicates valuation, though today's price does not seem unreasonable.

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EnerNOC Working, But The Outlook Still Cloudy

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Motley Fool: Can Perrigo Company PLC Continue Its Bull Run?

There's a pretty good chance that if you use store-brand OTC consumer health products, you have a Perrigo (NYSE: PRGO  ) product in your bathroom right now. Perrigo hasn't completely eschewed the prescription-based generic drug business that build companies like Teva (NYSE: TEVA  ) , but it has focused a great deal of its time and energy on ruling the store-brand OTC market. That business now offers pretty solid cash flow and returns, with plenty of growth opportunity in areas like diabetes and pet care. Perrigo doesn't exactly carry a "store-brand" multiple today, but these shares could still offer some upside as the company looks forward to further OTC launches, additional M&A, and growth in the nutrition and overseas markets.

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Can Perrigo Company PLC Continue Its Bull Run?

Seeking Alpha: Has Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Bottomed?

When last I wrote about Universal Stainless & Alloy Products (USAP), I was bullish on the long-term potential of the company's efforts to upgrade its product mix, but skeptical about the valuation of the stock. Since then, the shares are down about 7%, having spent the last six months chopping between $32 and $38. In that time, that company's progress on volume growth and mix has been frustratingly inconsistent.

I have a nerdish interest in metallurgy and companies like Allegheny Technologies (ATI), Carpenter Technology (CRS), A.M. Castle (CAS), and Haynes International (HAYN), but following companies and science is a completely separate issue from the stocks. I do generally like the potential for advanced alloy growth in aerospace, power machinery, and oil/gas, and I also do believe that vacuum induction melting (or VIM) products will skew USAP's mix higher over time. Here and now, though, it's hard to call the shares undervalued, with an apparent fair value around $33 to $37.

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Has Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Bottomed?

Seeking Alpha: Parker Drilling Starting Slow, But On A Better Path

I liked Parker Drilling (PKD) and its turnaround/self-improvement story about six months ago, and while the idea worked pretty well for a short time (the stock rose about 30% in the first month after that article), performance has trailed off noticeably since March as the company warned that 2014 would be off to a slower start. With that, the shares have been left behind by other small-cap energy service providers and contract drillers.

The sluggish start to 2014 is disappointing, but the Parker Drilling story is still worth a closer look. The company is the leading player in domestic drilling barges, earning a dayrate premium for the quality and capabilities of its rigs. The company's international land rig business is seeing better utilization, and there is a significant opportunity in the tool rental business from expanding operations in the Gulf of Mexico (or GOM) and improved margins in the international business (or ITS). A fair value of around $8 may not scream "must own" today, but it is worth a look as a relative laggard in the space.

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Parker Drilling Starting Slow, But On A Better Path

Seeking Alpha: Vistaprint Still Consistently Inconsistent

Bullish sell-side analysts have long pushed Vistaprint N.V. (VPRT) as a way to play growth in small businesses and the advantages of online/web-based disintermediation in bringing more sophisticated marketing tools to the SMB sector. It all sounds good (it always has), but Vistaprint seems stuck in this yo-yo business model where sustainable, balanced growth seems elusive.

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Vistaprint Still Consistently Inconsistent

Seeking Alpha: Marlin's Retreat Starting To Get Interesting

The market has apparently started turning its back on small caps, and that is likely to produce some long-term values. I think Marlin Business Services (MRLN) is starting to earn its way onto that list. Marlin is a good play on a small business recovery, and the company's over-capitalized balance sheet and low cost of funds gives management considerable flexibility. I haven't always been so fond of the stocks' valuation, but this 30%-plus pullback from the high is starting to look a little excessive.

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Marlin's Retreat Starting To Get Interesting

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Motley Fool: Mallinckrodt plc Takes a Big Swing for Growth

Facing declining market share in its core generic controlled substance (painkillers) market and holding the valuable asset of an Irish tax domicile, Mallinckrodt plc (NYSE: MNK  ) has aggressively put its balance sheet to work. First the company announced a $1.3 billion deal for Cadence Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CADX  ) and its hospital-centered Ofirmev product (injected acetamenophen). Now the company is taking an even bigger swing – announcing a $5.6 billion deal for controversial Questcor (NASDAQ: QCOR  ) and its lead drug Acthar.

If Mallinckrodt can steer Questcor past the rocks that short sellers have been loudly claiming are in the company's path, this deal could double Mallinckrodt's earnings in relatively short order. If the short sellers are proven right about the many and varied problems of Questcor and Acthar, Mallinckrodt's shareholders will pay the price.

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Mallinckrodt plc Takes a Big Swing for Growth

Seeking Alpha: A Sharp Pullback In Celldex Could Be A Window Of Opportunity

To buy when others seemingly can't sell fast enough takes a lot of guts (and other less family-friendly attributes), but it can be one of the best ways to exploit Wall Street shortsightedness. Small-cap oncology immunotherapy biotech Celldex (CLDX) has gotten swept up in this biotech bubble-popping, even though the data from the company has generally been positive and supportive of the idea that this company has some promising high-potential drugs.

On a risk-adjusted basis, I calculate a fair value of $29 per share for Celldex, suggesting significant upside from today's level. Readers have to consider two key risks here. First, there is the ever-present biotech risk that Celldex's drugs will fail in advanced clinical studies and never make it to market. Second, there is a growing risk that investors are cycling out of biotech and may no longer be willing to use the same long-term revenue multiples and discount rates. A true rout in the biotech space could take these shares down another 50% without any bad news from the company, but investors who can stomach that risk as the price of admission to a potential winner should look further into this story.

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A Sharp Pullback In Celldex Could Be A Window Of Opportunity

Seeking Alpha: Still Waiting For Tenneco's Margin And CV Leverage

On at least one level, Tenneco (TEN) offers a compelling story. European governments take emissions control fairly seriously, China is starting to take it more seriously, and while the commitment in the U.S. seems to wobble from administration to administration (or Congress to Congress), it has been marching toward higher standards. As the second-largest emissions player in the world (with around 22% share in light vehicles and 10% share in commercial vehicles), that should feed ongoing growth for Tenneco.

The problem is less about the story and more about the timing and valuation of that opportunity. Bullish analysts have been pushing a margin leverage and commercial vehicle growth story for a little while now, but the timelines keep sliding to the right. I don't disagree that Tenneco will get there, but the timing does have valuation implications. Although Tenneco's long-term DCF-based valuation isn't so impressive, the recent sell-off has pushed the price to a more attractive level on an EV/EBITDA basis.

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Still Waiting For Tenneco's Margin And CV Leverage

Seeking Alpha: Some Of PICO Holdings' Value Finally Peeking Through

Waiting for the market to realize the value in PICO Holdings (PICO) is not unlike waiting for paint to dry. The shares are up all of 9% in the past 12 months, though the six-month performance (up 11%) is a little better. Part of the problem is that so much of the company's asset base rests on a stronger housing market in the Western/Southwestern U.S., and that just hasn't materialized yet. While I would suggest investors who want to own holding company-type investments should certainly consider names like Brookfield Infrastructure (BIP) or Macquarie Infrastructure (MIC), PICO does have some appeal for those investors particularly interested in playing a Western/Southwestern housing recovery.

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Some Of PICO Holdings' Value Finally Peeking Through

Seeking Alpha: In A Shaky Biotech Market, Alnylam's Prospects Are Getting Stronger

Biotech investing is not where you go if you want an easy investing life, but the profits of patience and good stock selection can be significant. Investors are clearly nervous about biotech now, and there is a threat that sector-wide selling in these notoriously fickle stocks will put them in hibernation until the cycle turns around again.

Specific to Alnylam (ALNY), though, I would argue the company has never been stronger. The company is on pace to exceed its target of having five compounds in human studies by the end of 2015 ("5 x 15"), and a recent deal with Sanofi (SNY) gives Alnylam development funding, a motivated commercial partner, and the perception that it has been vetted by a large pharmaceutical company with a significant presence in rare diseases.

Alnylam is absolutely a risky pick, and investors should not ignore the risk that not only may the company's drugs fail in the clinic or in the marketplace, but that investors indiscriminately bailing out of the sector could weigh on the share price at times. On the flip side, I cannot ignore that Alnylam has multiple potential billion dollar-plus drugs in the clinic and a very strong R&D position in what could prove to be one of the next major therapeutic alternatives. With that, I see almost 50% upside in Alnylam shares today.

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In A Shaky Biotech Market, Alnylam's Prospects Are Getting Stronger

Seeking Alpha: Cascade Microtech Still Waiting On The Semi Rebound

The last six months have not been easy ones for small-cap semiconductor equipment and product companies. Those with exposure to LED, solar, or other non-semiconductor markets like Advanced Energy Industries or Veeco have done alright, but it has been a more challenging run for the likes of Mattson (MTSN), FormFactor (FORM), and Cascade Microtech (CSCD).

I'm still relatively bullish on Cascade, though. True, order and activity levels have not picked up as much as projects back six months ago, but Cascade is still leveraged to the increasing sophistication of chip production, as new process nodes, materials, structures, and wafer geometries will all require the company's probe cards. What's more, management has launched new tools like the CM300 and APS200 and acquired new capabilities that should make it more competitive in the wafer probe markets for advanced logic and SoCs.

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Cascade Microtech Still Waiting On The Semi Rebound

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Motley Fool: Pfizer Inc's Palbociclib Delivers the Goods

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) could use another blockbuster right now, and data presented from the phase 2 PALOMA-1 study for its CDK 4/6 inhibitor palbociclib over the weekend suggests it likely has one. The only major issue now could be the Street's already aggressive expectations, particularly as they pertain to Pfizer filing for approval on the basis of phase 2 data and getting to the market ahead of Lilly (NYSE: LLY  ) and Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) . 

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Pfizer Inc's Palbociclib Delivers the Goods

The Motley Fool: Is There Opportunity in the Eye-Care Sector?

Imperfect vision is a common problem around the world. It's the basis for large businesses at Essilor (NASDAQOTH: ESLOY  ) , Hoya, and Luxottica (NYSE: LUX  ) , as well as contact-lens manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) , NovartisCooper (NYSE: COO  ) , and Valeant (NYSE: VRX  ) . Not only is providing vision care products a profitable business in its own right, which often supports double-digit returns on capital, it is a business where customers typically have to buy the product over and over again throughout their life. Add in above-average growth prospects from emerging markets and it is not too difficult to see why these businesses generally carry robust valuations.

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Is There Opportunity in the Eye-Care Sector?

The Motley Fool: Can Express Scripts Holding Co. Beat Expectations Again?

Pharmacy benefit management company, or PBM, Express Scripts (NASDAQ: ESRX  ) has done quite well for investors in the past, but Wall Street is less confident about the future. Analysts are skeptical that, with the large advances already made in the shift to generics, Express Scripts can leverage formulary design, producer discounts, mail delivery and other drivers to continue generating double-digit free cash flow growth.

That skepticism could work in investors' favor, though, as Express Scripts looks like one of the relatively few meaningfully undervalued large health care companies.

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Can Express Scripts Holding Co. Beat Expectations Again?

The Motley Fool: Can DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc's Run Last?

The two largest hemodialysis service providers, Fresenius Medical Care (NYSE: FMS  ) and DaVita HealthCare Partners (NYSE: DVA  ) , may have a lot in common, but the performance of their shares is not one of them. Over the past year, DaVita has a 10% lead on on Fresenius and that lead only increases at the two-year (roughly 60%), and five-year (nearly 120%) marks.

Though the operating margins have been similar, DaVita has significantly outgrown Fresenius over the past decade and generated more free cash flow as a percentage of revenue. Better still, DaVita's HealthCare Partners business looks like a "right place, right time, right idea" operation that can benefit from a growing focus on basing health care spending on outcomes, not procedures. Considering DaVita's growth potential, the shares may yet be as much as 20% undervalued today.

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Can DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc's Run Last?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Seeking Alpha: RPC's Winter Of Discontent Has Passed

When I wrote on RPC (RES) about six months ago, I thought the company was a well-run, quality small-cap energy services name, but also a little pricey relative to some other options in the services space. RPC's performance in the interim was quite good (up about 20%), but the relative performances of Basic Energy (BAS) (up almost 120%) and several other service companies were even better, so I'm not exactly regretting the call.

Service stocks have rebounded on the prospects of greater activity in 2014, particularly in areas like pressure pumping and coiled tubing. Given that RPC maintained pretty good margins even as contracts rolled off and the company was forced to the tough spot market, I like this company's prospects for making hay as increased activity leads to better prices. The valuation isn't dirt-cheap right now, but I still think these shares can head higher in 2014.

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RPC's Winter Of Discontent Has Passed

Seeking Alpha: FMC Corp's Exceptional Performance Comes At A Cost

There are a lot of really good things about FMC Corporation (FMC). The company's unusual model in agricultural chemicals allows for exceptional margins, and the company's food/nutrition business is a leader in close to two-thirds of its operations. The only fly in the ointment is that investors are well aware of FMC's exceptional growth and its different model, and the valuation on these shares is not low.

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FMC Corp's Exceptional Performance Comes At A Cost

Seeking Alpha: Global Payments' Transformation Continues

Merchant acquiring isn't the most exciting business - truth be told, the entire acquiring / network / interchange system is probably boring to most people - but Global Payments (GPN) has a lot of interesting drivers working right now. The company's transition away from ISOs and toward direct acquisition should be good for margins over time, and the company has an uncommonly strong position outside the U.S. With the company also embracing integrated payments, higher revenues and margins should also be in play down the line.

Global Payments' efforts haven't gone unnoticed. Since I last wrote, the shares are up about 20% on increasing bullishness over the company's efforts to expand into integrated offerings and speculation that the company's overseas position could make it an M&A target. These shares don't seem mispriced in the market right now, but could still generate a good high single digit to low double-digit annual return from here.

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Global Payments' Transformation Continues

Seeking Alpha: Should Investors Buy PMC-Sierra Ahead Of Big Product Ramps?

Shares of storage and networking semiconductor company PMC-Sierra (PMCS) have done reasonably well since I last wrote about the company in October. Up around 20%, the company has lagged acquisition-assisted LSI (LSI), but matched Broadcom (BRCM) and outperformed Applied Micro (AMCC). Analysts, though, are a little worse than lukewarm on the shares, with four holds and two underperforms at present.

In reading the sell-side research, it seems like analysts are concerned about going positive on PMC-Sierra ahead of meaningful ramps in PCIe flash controllers, 12G SAS, and OTN. While I find it odd that the normally overly-bullish sell-side is being cautious, investors don't seem to have the same issue. With the run in the shares over the past six months, PMC-Sierra's price seems more than fair relative to its long-term cash flow-based value and likewise quite reasonable relative to operating margins.

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Should Investors Buy PMC-Sierra Ahead Of Big Product Ramps?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Seeking Alpha: The Wait Goes On At PCTEL

PCTEL (PCTI) is the sort of tiny tech company that could generate substantial upside if things started clicking, but it has been a long, frustrating wait for that growth to materialize. The company's antenna (Connected Solutions) business has some legitimate addressable growth markets like process automation, precision agriculture, and positive train control, and the company's scanning receivers have substantial share (albeit in a small market). It also doesn't hurt that the company has been free cash flow positive.

Unfortunately, this somewhat thinly-traded, under-followed company isn't generating the strong quarter-in, quarter-out double-digit revenue growth that seems mandatory for most winning tech stocks. I still believe that the company can start reporting double-digit growth again before too long and that the shares are undervalued, but I have to acknowledge that owning these shares could be a frustrating experience for long stretches of time.

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The Wait Goes On At PCTEL

Seeking Alpha: Neenah Paper Stays A Few Steps Ahead

Waiting for a better price on the stock of a company you like can work out really well sometimes, but then there are cases like Neenah Paper (NP) where the shares just keep marching upward - to the tune of better than 30% move since I last wrote about the company.

I do like the company's focus on value-added specialty papers where there is relatively less competition and less price sensitivity. I also like that management seems focused on identifying future acquisition opportunities, as free cash flow generation over the next few years should be in excess of the company's deleveraging needs. What I still don't like so much is the price you have to pay for all of that - I don't think the company has gotten 30% better in the last six months and while a company that can generate double-digit ROICs deserves a premium, this one still seems pricey.

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Neenah Paper Stays A Few Steps Ahead

Seeking Alpha: OM Group Could Be Ready To Run On A Stronger Europe

Many specialty chemicals spent the last six months going nowhere fast, OM Group (OMG) included. I've been watching this one, wondering if there might be a chance to get shares before the business started to improve on better demand in Europe. I don't think you can say that a recovery in Europe is a fait accompli, particularly in the passenger vehicle industry, but demand for automation, electrical, energy conversion, and alternative energy seems to be picking up. Considering the combination of recovering markets and a clean balance sheet with which to make accretive acquisitions, I like OM Group at these levels.

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OM Group Could Be Ready To Run On A Stronger Europe

Seeking Alpha: Still Waiting For A Better Entry Point On Innospec

When you find a chemicals company that can routinely post double-digit returns on assets and invested capital, it's worth paying attention. Likewise, not many $1 billion companies can get meaningful share in markets when competing against behemoths like the chemical operations of Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX), or Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.A) Lubrizol. Now, with Innospec (IOSP) making it clear that growing its oilfield chemicals business is a priority, I'd say the story is getting better.

Valuation still remains an issue. I've liked Innospec as a company for quite some time, but as I observed about six months ago, the valuation was and is fairly demanding. The stock hasn't done much in the interim, and I'm likewise concerned that investors buying today may be facing a wait as the company "grows into" its valuation and as the market expects more moves to build the oilfield operations.

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Still Waiting For A Better Entry Point On Innospec

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Motley Fool: Monsanto Company's Balanced Growth Proves Stronger Than the Headwinds

Agricultural productivity giant Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) has faced a slightly higher wall of worry here of late. Calendar 2013 was an operationally strong year for the company and one that largely put to rest questions of the company's ability to recapture momentum from DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) . For this quarter, though, there were worries that poor weather, difficult comps, and lower plantings were going to stall out the company's growth.

Analysts needn't have worried, as Monsanto once again delivered a better than expected quarter. With significant near-term opportunities in both corn and soybeans and longer-term opportunities in biologicals/microbials and precision agriculture, there are both growth and value catalysts to keep this stock moving.

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Monsanto Company's Balanced Growth Proves Stronger Than the Headwinds

Seeking Alpha: Glatfelter Rolls With The Punches And Changes With The Times

When I last wrote on Glatfelter (GLT), I liked the company but wasn't eager to jump into the stock at that price. With the shares up only about 2% since then, the relative valuation is quite a bit more interesting today. I do have some concerns about the company's input costs and the historical ROICs and book value growth, but the company stacks up well within the paper segment and I believe management's ability to move the company with the times will serve investors well over time.

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Glatfelter Rolls With The Punches And Changes With The Times

Seeking Alpha: Can Denbury Resources Recover Market Enthusiasm?

Enhanced oil recovery specialist Denbury Resources (DNR) can generate significant cash margins over extended periods of high oil prices, but it doesn't seem to be suiting the needs and tastes of the market right now. Some investors seem disappointed that the company elected not to convert to an MLP structure, while others worry about the company's relatively modest production growth outlook and its sensitivity to lower oil prices.

I don't find Denbury strikingly cheap, at least not in comparison to some other alternatives in the market, but it offers a different risk/reward profile than many other oil stocks. With management now more focused on returning capital to shareholders and with less drillbit risk here (relative at least to companies in the Bakken, Eagle Ford, or Niobrara regions), Denbury strikes me as an option for playing a high oil price outlook with less operational risk.

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Can Denbury Resources Recover Market Enthusiasm?

Seeking Alpha: Talisman Energy Aims To Shrink And Grow Rich

"Bigger is better" is the operating mindset for many corporate executives, but that's not always the winning strategy in the energy sector. With share price performance often closely tied to debt-adjusted production growth, it can make quite a bit of sense to jettison assets that don't offer much production growth upside and/or those that require substantial investments to maintain or develop.

That brings me to the Talisman Energy (TLM) situation. While the company has legitimately interesting assets in North and South America as well as Southeast Asia, the company's North Sea assets are little more than an albatross around its neck. Talisman shares do appear to be trading below fair value, and the company appears quite committed to both asset sales and cost reductions, but there isn't any particular shortage of interesting ideas in the energy sector today.

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Talisman Energy Aims To Shrink And Grow Rich