Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Investopedia: Seadrill - The Driller For Mad Dogs And Englishmen

Investors in stocks like Transocean (NYSE:RIG) or Diamond Offshore (NYSE:DO) might not be feeling the love yet, but the offshore drilling market is actually starting to get better. With a very modern fleet, aggressive leverage and a healthy dollop of devil-may-care operating philosophy, Seadrill (NYSE:SDRL) is ready for that turn. The question for investors, though, is whether they can handle the risk and valuation that comes with arguably the most aggressive player in a highly cyclical sector.

A Ho-Hum Third Quarter  
The markets are still expecting the offshore drilling market to be more of a 2012 event, so Seadrill's third quarter earnings are not likely to be examined quite so closely. Revenue was okay, falling 4% from last year and rising 3% from the second quarter. Rates were not all that incredible this quarter, but utilization was quite good and the company is bringing more of its rigs under contract.

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Investopedia: What Comes After "Worse" For OmniVision Technologies?

When a company goes from bad to worse and then another step further, what do you call that? Whatever word investors in OmniVision Technologies (Nasdaq:OVTI) may choose, and most of them would likely be unprintable, it is clear that this specialty chip company is indeed in trouble. Although much will be made of the company's share losses to Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL), this is increasingly looking like a broader sector issue as well.

A Bad Quarter 
OmniVision told investors a little while ago that this fiscal second quarter was going to be bad, and it was. Although revenue actually slightly exceeded the company's most recent guidance range, it still represented around a 9% year-on-year decline and approximately a 21% decline in sales. OmniVision took a one-two punch on the top line, as shipments fell about 11% sequentially and average selling price fell a similar amount. Notably, higher-end products (two megapixels and up) made up a significantly smaller share of total sales in the quarter. (For related reading, see A Primer On Investing In The Tech Industry.)

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Investopedia: American Eagle Needs More Preening

Investors hoping for a rapid turnaround in American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) should be a little concerned. Although the company is reporting better results, it seems that much of that is a byproduct of easier comps, as opposed to truly improving performance. Moreover, while American Eagle has been one of the very few to consistently post attractive returns on capital and earn real economic profits in the brutally-competitive no-moat retailing world, competition makes this very nearly a zero-sum game. There is still value in these shares, but investors need to understand that the company has to sell Wall Street on its turnaround plan before the shares are likely to match that value.

An Ok Third Quarter  
American Eagle had preannounced top-line results, so there were few surprises there. Revenue rose almost 11% on a 5% comp-store increase. Keep in mind, though, that the comp-store growth was just 1% in the prior quarter, so a rebound was to be expected. Direct sales continue to be a growth opportunity (up 21% this quarter), while traditional store sales growth is more modest.

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Investopedia: Ralcorp Needs To Offer More

If this fiscal fourth quarter is a sign of what Ralcorp Holdings (NYSE:RAH) has to offer investors, then many of them are right to wonder why management did not accept ConAgra's (NYSE:CAG) overtures to buy the company. The company is certainly trying to change things up, including spinning off its branded cereal business, but this is supposed to be a good time for the makers of private label food and Ralcorp is looking decidedly beige.

An Iffy End to the Fiscal Year  
Ralcorp closed out the fiscal year with reported revenue growth of 8%, half of that coming from the acquisition of American Italian Pasta Company. Core revenue missed estimates slightly, with reported volume growth of 3% and an internal volume contraction of 4%. Volume erosion was consistent across product lines, while the snack/sauce/spread, bakery and private label cereal businesses did scratch out some overall net growth. (To know more about acquisition, read Analyzing An Acquisition Announcement.)

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Investopedia: If Pipelines Matter, Novartis Should Be Looking Healthy

Wall Street professionals are in many respects paid worriers, and that's certainly true in the world of Big Pharma. Investors fret about the quality of the pipeline at companies like Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Lilly (NYSE:LLY) and Merck (NYSE:MRK) and their ability to grow after patent cliffs. But when a company like Novartis (NYSE:NVS) comes down the road with a healthy pipeline, the Street seems to respond with worries about how well that pipeline will actually sell, the gaps in the company's product line-up, and the extent of internal cost saving initiatives.

All of that said, the skeptics on Novartis have at least some valid points. While Novartis is a well-balanced company and a good option for income-oriented investors, it is not the cheapest or most interesting Big Pharma stock today. (Learn how to find a healthy pharmaceutical investment in a market full of weak drugs. For more, see Evaluating Pharmaceutical Companies.)

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Investopedia: Shipping A Big Mess

This isn't the first time, nor likely the last, that I've written about the tough conditions in the shipping industry. A combination of high capacity, high fuel prices and inconsistent emerging market demand, has led to low rates and high operating costs and numerous struggling companies. With the recent bankruptcy of General Maritime (OTCBB: GMRRQ) and the warnings from Frontline (NYSE: FRO) management about its own potential liquidity difficulties, it seems pretty clear that the reckoning has come for many of these companies. (To know more about bankruptcy, read: An Overview Of Corporate Bankruptcy.)

General Maritime Goes Down
General Maritime was not the first, nor will it likely be the last, shipping company to declare bankruptcy, during this downturn. There's not a lot that really needs to be said about this situation; the company had a great deal of debt, which is true for many shipping companies, and a dismal operating environment, which, again, is true for pretty much all shipping companies.

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Investopedia: Icahn Tilts At Commercial Metals

To give credit where due, Carl Icahn rolls with the punches and always seems to have at least a couple of ideas percolating on the back burner. After an ill-fated attempt to acquire Clorox (NYSE: CLX), Icahn (through Icahn Enterprises (NYSE: IEP)) is at it again, this time attempting to acquire mini-mill and recycling operator Commercial Metals (NYSE: CMC), in a cash deal. While this is a relatively rare ray of sunshine in the primary metals industry, investors shouldn't rush to assume this is the beginning of a new merger wave.

The Deal
Icahn has publicly offered $15 a share for Commercial Metals, an offer that totals about $1.73 billion and represents a 31% premium to Nov. 25, 2011's, close. That said, it's not an especially generous offer. Commercial Metals has been in a slump lately, but was trading above $15 as recently as May, despite what has been a bad operating environment for better-regarded mini-mill competitors, like Nucor (NYSE: NUE) and Steel Dynamics (Nasdaq: STLD).

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Investopedia: Renewed Realism May Make Life Tech A Buy

It's easy to get sucked into the "gee-whiz" aspect of a lot of new technology, and that probably explains why bubbles are much more common in tech and health care than in industrials or transports. It's easy to dream of how gene sequencing might change the world; quite a bit harder to imagine the same from a new hydraulic component. Unfortunately, the reality is that life sciences is not the eternal growth engine that investors have long hoped.

Although investors in life sciences stocks like Life Technologies (Nasdaq:LIFE) have seen a lot of pain as Wall Street reorients its expectations, the worst may be over. With more realistic expectations in place, it may be time to consider Life Tech as a good blue-chip play on a sector that may not be the stuff of dreams, but is hardly a nightmare. (For related reading, see A Primer On The Biotech Sector.)

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Investopedia: Uncertainty Still Means Discount For WellPoint

Maybe apart from taxes on carried interest, there's nothing Wall Street hates more than uncertainty. Unfortunately, there's abounding uncertainty in the world of health insurance these days as nobody is quite sure how the Supreme Court will rule in the challenges to the Obama administration's health insurance laws, nor whether or not there will be even more pressure on premiums in the years to come. While the long-term picture on WellPoint (NYSE:WLP) may lack digital precision, there's enough apparent value here for investors to take a serious look. 

Going Through a Slow Spell  
With the economy and employment in the dumps, it is no great surprise that revenue growth has been sluggish of late at this large national insurer. Enrollment has been limited by the poor job market, while premiums have been constrained by both regulatory push-backs and competitive actions from other rival insurers like UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH) and Aetna (NYSE:AET).

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Investopedia: Will Qiagen's Restructuring Address The Real Problems?

I am a major skeptic when it comes to the benefits of so-called "restructuring." I don't generally believe that companies find prosperity by firing workers and pulling away from marketing or research and development (R&D). Moreover, I think it sends a very poor message on accountability when the same executives who hired those workers (usually as part of a plan to "invest in growth") are later praised (and rewarded with even bigger pay packages) for firing them.

Now Qiagen (Nasdaq:QGEN) is throwing its hat into the restructuring ring. The real question for shareholders, though, is whether this is another meaningless shuffling of the deck chairs, or whether management has a cogent plan to attain what the company really needs.

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Investopedia: AMR's Attempt To Avoid Bankruptcy Stalls Out

With quite a lot of debt, thinning liquidity, untenable costs and a worsening global economic outlook for 2012, AMR (NYSE:AMR), parent of American Airlines, bowed to the inevitable and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At this point there is virtually no chance that the company will disappear or liquidate (it doesn't even believe it needs debtor-in-possession financing), but common shareholders are almost certain to take a total wipeout here. Although a new and improved AMR will likely emerge from this process, it is yet another reminder that airlines are miserable investments in most cases.

A Surprising Filing
There have been rumors about a potential AMR bankruptcy for some time now, and as labor negotiations dragged on it seemed increasingly possible that management would use Chapter 11 reorganization as its final bit of leverage. That said, this filing is still something of a surprise - Bank of America's analyst Glenn Engel was in print just two weeks saying that bankruptcy was not imminent here, and both Morgan Stanley and Barclays had positive ratings on the stock - including an $8 price target at Barclays. (For related reading, An Overview Of Corporate Bankruptcy.)

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Investopedia: The Investment Prospects For Nokia

As technology moves from one generation to the next, the old champions are frequently left behind with only fading memories of former glories. That has certainly proved to be the case with Nokia (NYSE:NOK), as this one-time growth champion has become a lagging dotard in the cellphone market that it still, somehow, leads. With new management and a new operating philosophy in place, including a far-reaching partnership with Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT), it is time to reconsider the investment case for Nokia.

The Problems Have Been Many
Although much is made of Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL), burying Nokia under the avalanche prompted by the iPhone, the fact is that Nokia was struggling long before that. Consider any recent innovation (going back to the clamshell design), and Nokia was almost always one of the last to be on board and usually not a good representation of the breed. In fact, Nokia couldn't even stay ahead of the likes of Research In Motion (Nasdaq:RIMM) or Palm as the cell phone world changed.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Investopedia: It Will Take Time To Fix Campbell Soup

Consumer product companies, particularly those that have been around a century or more, don't fail overnight. Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB) is suffering from years of under-investment in its own internal product development and losing some share to rivals, like General Mills (NYSE:GIS) and private label specialist Treehouse Foods (NYSE:THS). Although new management seems to have the right ideas about how to fix what ails the company, it will take time for those changes to take effect.

A Sluggish Start to the Year 
Campbell reported that revenue fell almost 1% to start its fiscal year, as a 3% price increase was offset by a 5% decline in volume. Weakness was unfortunately broad-based. U.S. Simple Meals (which includes the soup business) saw a 7% decline in revenue, as part of an overall 3% decline in revenue. Volume was similarly weak in international soup and the global baking/snacking business eked out 1% organic revenue growth, despite 3% volume erosion.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Investopedia: Deere Keeps On Running

Investors looking at the results from machinery and component companies like Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), Cummins (NYSE:CMI) or Deere (NYSE:DE) may think there's a bottomless demand for heavy-duty equipment these days. To be sure, strong agricultural markets are encouraging farmers to spend on equipment, while a torrid pace of construction in the developing world is likewise gobbling up machinery almost as fast as its manufactured. Deere is just as cyclical as it has always been, but investors optimistic on ongoing global growth may yet have more to reap here. (To know more about cyclical stocks, read: Cyclical Versus Non-Cyclical Stocks.)

A Powerful End to a Successful Year  
Deere reported 20% revenue growth for its fiscal fourth quarter, as modest price increases coupled with double-digit tonnage growth drove a successful result. Sales in the large agriculture and turf business were up 18%, while the construction business saw 34% growth on 37% tonnage growth. Although growth outside the U.S. and Canada was much stronger (27% in constant currency), homegrown growth of 14% was hardly poor.

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Investopedia: Hope For Hormel To Get Cheaper

The trouble with quality food companies is that they rarely get cheap, and when they do it's often because of some significant erosion in the fundamentals. That's the case today with Kellogg (NYSE:K), as cutting too deeply as part of a cost restructuring program, has sapped some of the almost-legendary reliability of that company's earnings stream. Perhaps counter-intuitively, investors may need to hope for something similar at Hormel (NYSE:HRL). This is an excellent company in many respects, but it's hard to argue for chasing the stock at these prices.

The End of the Year was Better than It Seems 
At first look, it may seem that Hormel's quarter was a laggard, compared to the likes of Sara Lee (NYSE:SLE) or Tyson (NYSE:TSN). Certainly, revenue growth of just 2% does not look all that impressive and it would seem that stronger pricing (up 9%) killed volume (down 7%). All is not always at it seems though; Hormel's volume decline had everything to do with one less week in the quarter and was otherwise basically stable, a result much more in line with its comparables.

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Investopedia: Medtronic May Be A Heavyweight, But It Can Still Hit Hard

Watching Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) over the past decade has been an interesting case study. Medtronic used to be one of the great growth stories of the med-tech world and the valuation reflected it, even well past the point where growth could no longer keep up. Since then, Wall Street has over-corrected and Medtronic now seems underestimated and underappreciated. True, Medtronic will never return to its go-go growth days and there is something of a lumbering titan about this company, but what titans may lack in dexterity, they can often make up in staying power.

Fiscal Q2 - Little Expected and That's What Was Delivered 
Medtronic's fiscal second quarter wasn't great, but nobody expected that it would be. Revenue rose 6% as reported, with constant currency growth of 3% and organic growth in the vicinity of 1%. That's not impressive; more like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), than Covidien (NYSE: COV) or St. Jude (NYSE: STJ).

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Investopedia: Has Analog Devices Made It Through The Worst?

In some respects, analog chips are the workhorses of the semiconductor world. When the chip market goes into its regular troughs, the analog makers like Analog Devices (NYSE:ADI) batten down the hatches, and prepare for a few quarters of sequential earnings decline before the inevitable stabilization and recovery. Although the global economic situation is precarious, Analog may largely be through the process of seeing order levels reset ahead of a recovery.

A Tough Close to a Challenging Year
There wasn't all that much good news in this fiscal fourth quarter for Analog Devices. Revenue fell 7% from last year and 6% from the preceding quarter. Sales were weakest in the industrial and communications categories, where both saw double-digit year-on-year declines. Sales to automobile manufacturers were quite strong, though, and sales to the consumer category were mixed - better from the fiscal third quarter, but down from last year.

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Investopedia: Tyson Already Looks Overcooked

When last I reviewed Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN), I commented that it would be an interesting stock to buy around one times book value. As it turns out, the stock briefly touched that level and had a decent run from there. Now, though, it seems there are growing expectations of improvement in the chicken market and sustainable profitability in beef and pork; so much so that there really doesn't seem to be much upside left in these shares.

Familiar Challenges Close Out the Fiscal Year 
A lot of what went on in Tyson's fiscal fourth quarter will sound familiar. Sales growth looked impressive at nearly 13%, with very strong price growth in excess of 12% and very modest volume growth of less than 1%. Top line growth was led up an impressive 16% in beef, where prices rose almost 19%, and 14% in pork. Chicken revenue rose a more sedate 9% and prepared food revenue rose less than 4%, on a nearly 3% decline in volume.

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Investopedia: Hewlett-Packard Presses The Reset Button

It stands to reason that a change in executive leadership, particularly when that new CEO is brought in from outside the firm, is going to lead to significant changes in how a company operates. After all, why would a new CEO want to risk losing the honey pot that is a Fortune 500 pay package, as a consequence of the prior CEO's mistakes? To that end, then, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) shareholders should be in for a stretch where the company reports some kitchen sink quarters, tries to clean up past mistakes and forge a new path to better performance.

A Sluggish End to the Year  
HP didn't report a very strong quarter to close its fiscal year, but there is no particular reason that anyone should have thought it would. Revenue declined 3% from last year, but did rise 3% from the third quarter, missing consensus by a small amount. Software was the only operating area of notable growth, as HP posted a 6% improvement in organic sales. Services wasn't great, up 2%, but that was better than servers/networking/storage, PCs and printing, which were all down from last year.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Investopedia: Marvell Starting To Get Interesting

Often one of the tricks to investment success is counter-intuitive investment instincts. In the case of chip company Marvell Technology (Nasdaq:MRVL), it may seem silly to be interested in this name when its storage business is threatened by flooding that has hit its customers, and its wireless business continues to suffer as its major customers wither under competition. All of that may be true, but it ignores the facts that this company is getting more diversified, and still manages to generate attractive amounts of free cash flow.

A Challenging Third Quarter  
Relatively few chip companies are reporting great earnings right now, and that's particularly true for those with high levels of exposure to PCs and Research In Motion (Nasdaq:RIMM). For this quarter, Marvell reported that revenue fell 1% from the year-ago level, but rose 6% on a sequential basis. The company's storage business (chips that control hard disk drives) saw 11% growth from last year and flat sequential performance, while the networking business was up 7% and also flat from the second quarter. Mobile/wireless was more mixed - down 15% from the year-ago period, but up 20% from the second quarter as the company navigates past its RIM issues.

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Investopedia: If The Economy Holds, Agilent Is A Buy

Put succinctly, Wall Street is still freaked out about the course of the global economy in 2012. As a result, a long list of companies are trading below what seems like a rational fair value, and Agilent (NYSE:A) is clearly among them. Although a further economic slowdown would be bad news for both the test and measurement and life sciences businesses, today's price seems to already factor in a lot of that risk.

An Unnerving Close to the Fiscal Year  
Although Agilent's reported results were not bad, it did give nervous investors an excuse to worry a little more. Revenue did rise more than 9% in the fiscal fourth quarter, but the growth rate came in a bit below the expectations of management and many analysts, even if that shortfall could be tied largely to forex moves. Growth was strongest in the electronic measurement segment (up 10% organically), decent in life sciences (up 6%) and sluggish in chemical analysis (up 1%).

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Investopedia: Brocade Has More To Prove

Brocade (Nasdaq:BRCD) is another one of those small tech stocks beset by worries that the market is changing out from underneath them, and that the Goliaths of the tech space ((Cisco (Nasdaq:CSCO), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), Juniper (NYSE:JNPR) and Dell (Nasdaq:DELL)) are going to chew away their business. Certainly the recent performance of the company and the valuation of the stock suggest little optimism, but this may yet be a name to consider for aggressive turnaround investors. Although this quarter's beat and raise proves nothing, at least there are some positive marks in the ledger for 2011.

An Encouraging End to the Year  
Brocade's results for the fourth quarter were not all that impressive at first look. Revenue was basically flat with last year and up 9% on a sequential basis. Storage area network (SAN) revenue was down about 4% from last year, with the smaller IP business offsetting that with 11% growth. Still, Brocade beat the consensus guess of year-on-year revenue decline, and surpassed the high end of the range as well.

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Investopedia: Aruba Still A Growth Story In A Growth Market

 Even if consumer demand for smartphones and tablets has started to disappoint lately, there is little question that it is still a major emergent trend in enterprise IT. As Aruba Networks (Nasdaq:ARUN) is built upon facilitating wireless access to network resources, it is a good pure play on this secular growth. While worries about enterprise IT spending and reinvigorated competition are relevant in the context of a robust valuation, this is still an interesting tech growth story.

A Solid Start to the Fiscal Year
Aruba is getting its fiscal year off to a solid start. Revenue rose 44% in the quarter and 5% on a sequential basis. Profitability is also fairly good. Gross margin did worsen from last year ((whether generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or non-GAAP)), but improved decently on a sequential basis. Operating income was more uniformly positive - the year-on-year GAAP increase being so large as to almost be irrelevant, while the company added almost a point and a half to non-GAAP operating margin on a sequential basis. (To know more about income statement, read: Understanding The Income Statement.)

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Investopedia: Is Third Time The Charm For Gilead?

When in doubt, buy somebody out. Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq:GILD) has been trying for quite some time to diversify its business beyond HIV therapy. With November 21, 2011's announcement of a massive deal for biotech Pharmasset (Nasdaq:VRUS), Gilead is making a bold move for dominance in hepatitis C and perhaps acknowledging its own shortcomings. The real question for shareholders, though, is whether the extreme competition in the Hep C market will whittle away the value of Pharmasset's pipeline and make this yet another expensive blunder by Gilead management.

The Terms of the Deal  
Gilead announced on November 21, 2011 that it will acquire Pharmasset for $11 billion in cash, valuing Pharmasset at $137 per share in cash. That price is an 89% premium to November 18, 2011's close and makes Pharmasset nearly twice as valuable as Vertex (Nasdaq:VRTX) - a biotech with an interesting new hepatitis C drug already on the market, but one recently beset by worries of prescription trends and future competition.

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Investopedia: Intuit A Stealth Play On Multiple Growth Markets

Intuit (Nasdaq:INTU) is still, likely, best known for its tax software, and the various small to medium-sized business software packages (like QuickBooks) that it offers. What is not so well-known, though, is that Intuit is actually a large software as a service (SaaS) provider, and a growing player in markets like payroll, payment solutions and bank infrastructure. While Intuit likely suffers a bit from "neither fish nor fowl syndrome," and less impressive growth than cloud computing titans like (NYSE:CRM) and VMware (NYSE:VMW), this is a surprisingly complicated yet high-return company.

Decent Results in a Slow First Quarter  
For better or worse, Intuit is still at a point in its life cycle where seasonality matters. To that end, this fiscal first quarter, a quarter in which there is little demand for tax software, is a fairly sleepy one. Nevertheless, reported revenue rose 12%, and the company posted a 13% growth in its small business segment, as subscriber growth for products like QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions and online payroll was all quite good.

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Investopedia: Profitless Prosperity For

I'm not too proud to admit that (NYSE:CRM) confuses me on many levels. The organic sales growth is clearly there, but these are still early days, and it's uncertain whether can withstand Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT), Oracle (Nasdaq:ORCL) and SAP (NYSE:SAP) taking serious aim at the cloud business. But, even more important is the question of's profitability - the company's profitability under the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) looks rather lousy (as do the returns on capital), but the sell-side is not bothered by this, and the cash flow picture is more encouraging. All in all, though, this looks like an expensive stock that has to continue to execute flawlessly to justify its price.

Mixed Fiscal Third Quarter Results  
While some will focus on what looks like encouraging guidance from management, the reported results for the fiscal third quarter have some hair on them. Reported revenue rose 36% from last year and 7% from the last quarter, with constant currency growth of 34%. Subscription revenue rose 36%, deferred revenue rose 32% and billings rose 29% - dipping below the psychologically important 30% growth rate.

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Investopedia: Trying To Shake More Value Out Of Heinz

With institutional investors so skittish these days, it is hard to find cheap stocks among the lists of quality defensive names. H.J. Heinz (NYSE: HNZ), for example, is a company with attractive international exposure, good growth prospects and respectable returns on capital. Yet, the stock always seems to hover just around fairly valued and rarely offers investors a real bargain or a chance to get in on the cheap.

A Somewhat Disappointing Second Quarter  
Heinz did not do especially well this quarter, though that has to be considered in the context of a company that seldom disappoints or offers many surprises. Revenue rose 8% as reported, coming in around $100 million short of the average Wall Street guess. Organic sales was a less-impressive 1.5%, however, as modest price growth was offset by volume erosion. 

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Investopedia: How Green Are The Acres At Adecoagro?

It feels like a little bit of the bloom is off the rose that is farmland. About a year ago, farmland was one of the most talked-about investment options, and investors scoured the markets for names like Cresud (Nasdaq:CRESY), Bunge (NYSE:BG) and Syngenta (NYSE:SYT) to find some exposure to the market. While investors no longer have quite the same enthusiasm for these names, patient investors may want to come back around to Adecoagro (NYSE:AGRO). Agriculture is a tough, low-margin business, but short of putting together the considerable capital it takes to buy farmland, Adecoagro may be the next best thing for playing the increasing scarcity of arable land. 

An Ok Third Quarter  
Variabilities in yields, pricing, forex and futures contracts make this company's quarter-to-quarter performance absurdly volatile, so a longer-term perspective is arguably best. Nevertheless, revenue rose 31% from last year, powered by 46% growth from farming operations and 24% growth from other activities, like sugar and ethanol processing.

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Investopedia: A Stumble For NetApp Isn't A Disater

Even a good market, like enterprise storage, isn't completely bulletproof. Investors always try to read between the lines of the releases from IBM (NYSE:IBM), Dell (Nasdaq:DELL), EMC (NYSE:EMC) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), and try to figure out the "real" story on the enterprise market. And, then, there are the occasional outlier events, like the recent flooding in Thailand that stir up the market. All of that said, slightly disappointing guidance from NetApp (Nasdaq:NTAP) shouldn't completely sour investors on this name; it is not as strong of a prospect as EMC, but the price on these shares is nevertheless interesting. (For more on the tech industry, read A Primer On Investing In The Tech Industry.)

A Mediocre Second Quarter  
For its fiscal second quarter, NetApp reported about 20% revenue growth, missing the average analyst' guess but only slightly. Organic revenue growth was much more modest, though, and something in the low single-digit range (3 or 4%). Product revenue rose 23%, as reported (and up 5% sequentially) on strong year-on-year shipment growth in midrange products. Although NetApp had some issues with specific large customers, demand from the likes of Dell and Teradata (NYSE:TDC) was encouraging.

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Investopedia: Applied Materials Still Digging For Bottom

Right up there with "it's different this time" in the lexicon of dangerous Wall Street sayings, is "how much worse can it get?" When it comes to Applied Materials (Nasdaq:AMAT) and its solar and flat panel businesses, apparently the answer is "a whole lot worse." Although recovery in semiconductors is arguably in sight, it seems likely that analysts and institutional investors are going to be more interested in names like KLA-Tencor (Nasdaq:KLAC), Novellus Systems (Nasdaq:NVLS) and ASML (Nasdaq:ASML), until Applied Materials proves convincingly that it can pull out of this nose-dive.

A Sour End to a Tough Year  
Not so long ago, I publicly wondered as to whether Applied Material's forward guidance was one of those kitchen sink situations, where management just wanted to get all of the negativity out of the way. Apparently, the answer is "no," as the fourth quarter was not very strong, and the company's forward guidance was not encouraging.

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Investopedia: Covidien Delivers Again

Maybe Covidien (NYSE:COV) goes overlooked because it doesn't have a hype-growth (or hyper-growth, if you prefer) market like surgical robotics or transcathether heart valves. On the other hand, it also doesn't have a big reliance on stagnant markets like orthopedics, stents, or implantable cardioverter defibrillators to weigh it down. Though Covidien admittedly lacks some pizazz, this continues to be an underrated and under-appreciated med-tech name that could deliver solid returns to a patient investor.

A Respectable Close to the Year  
Although Covidien didn't blow the doors off in its fiscal fourth quarter, its core performance, in a weak healthcare market, nonetheless holds up well against rivals like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Bard CR (NYSE:BCR), Becton Dickinson (NYSE:BDX) and Stryker (NYSE:SYK). Reported growth of 15% certainly looked awesome, but sizable chunks of that were due to currency and an extra week in the quarter. Strip that away, and organic growth was a bit above 3% - not terrible in this market, but certainly not 15% either.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Investopedia: Wall Street Isn't Buying Nvidia's Story

Even allowing for the lousy, rotten, no-good summer for chips, Nvidia (Nasdaq:NVDA) has taken a pretty good pounding in its own right. Simply put, Wall Street just doesn't seem to buy the idea that the company's efforts to expand and diversify, beyond graphics chips, will succeed in making this anything more than an also ran. There's no shortage of risk in the Nvidia story, but investors who are willing to cast their lot with management could see some solid returns in the years to come.

A Solid Third Quarter 
Although Nvidia delivered a pretty good third quarter, it is almost certainly being overshadowed by investor worries about tech going into this calendar fourth quarter. Nvidia reported that revenue rose 26% from last year, and 5% from the prior quarter. Unfortunately, Nvidia was strongest where it's weakest - growth was 14% in the consumer segment (18% of sales), 10% in professional solutions (22% of sales) and just 1% in the graphics chip business (61% of sales).

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Investopeda: Middleby Still Simmering

Wall Street is full of perverse incentives; one of them is that you sometimes find yourself rooting against a company you otherwise like. I would be more than happy to own shares of growing food service equipment supplier Middleby (Nasdaq:MIDD), as I believe the company is taking share with innovative products and has a lot of growth opportunities, as its customers go international. However, I also don't ever like to pay too much for a stock, so it seems that I have to wish for some bad news, to create a bargain opportunity in this name.

An OK Third Quarter 
Middleby did OK in the third quarter, but this stock is not typically priced to reward OK. Revenue rose 23% as reported, and acquisitions were once again a major component of the company's growth. Absent those deals, organic growth was more on the order of 6%. On a business segment basis, commercial food service did it all as revenue rose over 10% and offset the nearly 26% decline in food processing.

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Investopedia: Meridian Biosciences - Stealth Income Play

Although healthcare has a lot of attributes that would seem to support healthy dividends (protected markets, high margins, excellent cashflow), there's actually only a fairly limited list of quality income names. Once investors have worked past names like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT), most investors have to start looking at pharmaceutical names or accept sub-3% yields.

And there's Meridian Biosciences (Nasdaq:VIVO). An established player in easy-to-use and affordable diagnostic tests, Meridian couples pretty decent growth (and growth potential) with a generous dividend payout. Although this stock is not cheap, it may, nevertheless, appeal to those investors looking for a healthy dividend with some growth upside. 

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Investopedia: OM Group - Unreasonably Cheap, Or Cheap For A Reason?

Though I have not owned it in many years, I've been a fan of OM Group (NYSE:OMG) for some time, particularly as the company's management tries to diversify the business and steer it away from such heavy reliance on cobalt. Although this is not a well-followed company at all, is still quite dependent on cobalt prices, and has not proven that it can deliver consistently strong returns on capital, today's valuation seems to expect far too little from this specialty materials company.

Crosscurrents in Q3 
Given that there is only one published earnings estimate for OM Group, the question of whether the company disappointed with its third quarter results, is largely irrelevant. Nevertheless, it was a quarter that seemed to be mixed with good and bad news.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Investopedia: Maidenform Pulled Out Of Shape

Players in the intimate apparel space, like Hanesbrands (NYSE: HBI) and Warnaco (NYSE: WRC), warned earlier this month that the market was not so strong, and data from retailers like J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) and Kohl's (NYSE: KSS) was likewise not encouraging. Even with that backdrop, though, Maidenform Brands (NYSE: MFB) surprised the Street with a very disappointing third quarter and some self-inflicted wounds only made matters worse.

A Poor Q3  
There's no value in sugar-coating what was a lousy report from Maidenform. Sales rose less than 2%, while sell side analysts had been expecting 11% growth, versus last year's quarter. Wholesale sales, the bulk of MFB's revenue base, rose just barely more than 1%, but the results were curiously mixed. Sales to mass merchants like Wal-mart (NYSE: WMT) and Target (NYSE: TGT) jumped 15%, but sales to department stores were down almost 1%. (To know more about buy side and sell side analysts, read: Buy Side Vs. Sell Side Analysts.)

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Investopedia: Computer Sciences - Uncertain Value With Certain Problems

It's a given that investors who wish to hunt for big returns generally have to take on outsized risks. IT provider Computer Sciences (NYSE:CSC) pushes that idea near its breaking point, though. Although this stock may well be very cheap, relative to its inherent earnings potential, "potential" is a dangerous word and there are very real issues with this company.  

An Unimpressive Fiscal Second Quarter  
There was little to encourage bulls in Computer Sciences' second quarter, and the stock was quite weak immediately afterwards. Reported revenue rose about 1%, and none of the reporting segments were especially strong. The North American public sector was down about 2%, and managed services was up about 2%. It's just not that impressive when compared to results at companies like International Business Machine (NYSE:IBM), Accenture (NYSE:ACN) or Cognizant Tech Solution (Nasdaq:CTSH).

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Investopedia: Rock-Tenn Still Rolling

Packaging is typically a difficult business. After all, most things that need a package already have them, and customers are always pushing for new designs that eliminate materials and cut costs. What's more, it's a business that relies on difficult-to-control commodity inputs like natural gas, wood and wastepaper, and plenty of companies have wrecked industry pricing in the past by gorging on debt-fueled capacity only to cut prices to keep those factories running.

Against that depressing backdrop, Rock-Tenn (NYSE:RKT) stands out as a different sort of company. Rock-Tenn has often been an unusually efficient operator, and a leader in niches, like in-store displays. Now, with the large Smurfit-Stone acquisition, Rock-Tenn management has the opportunity to leverage their skills over a much larger business, and drive larger returns for shareholders.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Investopedia: Cisco Dunks ... On The Kiddie Hoop

For all of the excitement about Cisco's (Nasdaq:CSCO) "strong" first quarter, an important detail seems to be overlooked. Namely, that expectations have been going down steadily on Cisco for some time, and if the company couldn't beat this low hurdle, that would be a sign of some serious problems indeed. Though I've long been a bull on Cisco's under-appreciated inherent value, investors should keep a little perspective here and realize that Cisco is not exactly fully in the clear just yet.

A Mildy Encouraging First Quarter  
After a rough stretch of financial underperformance, Cisco did announce estimate-beating revenue and 5% year-on-year growth. Product sales grew 3% from last year and were roughly flat with last quarter, while service revenue picked up 12 and 1%, respectively. Switching and routing were both reasonably strong on a sequential basis (up almost 2 and 5%, respectively) and make up about two-thirds of the product revenue base.

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Investopedia: Is Hologic A Coiled Spring?

It's frankly more difficult to find overvalued health care stocks today than undervalued ones, assuming that the market can transition through this dry spell and that procedure volumes pick up with an eventual economic recovery. Given that Hologic (Nasdaq:HOLX) serves markets largely seen as mature, many investors question whether the company can grow fast enough to be worthwhile. Although that is a legitimate concern, investors have become pessimistic to a point where even modest growth could lead to a strong rebound in the stock.

A Respectable End to the Year  
Hologic's business is a combination of solid higher-growth businesses and some smaller, more sluggish operations. Overall growth rose 9% this quarter, with breast health and diagnostics up 11 and 12% respectively, while the surgical and skeletal health businesses grew 1 and 2%. Given that this is still a pretty unhealthy market for capital equipment and doctor office visits, these are pretty solid results. (For related reading on heath care, see How To Avoid Medical Debt.)

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Investopedia: More Yo-Yo'ing At Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers (NYSE:WTW) is one of those oddly volatile stocks. Although the company's inconsistent attendance history and highly levered balance sheet no doubt explain some of it, it is curious that this is a Wall Street plaything. With the company offering disappointing guidance on attendance, it looks like this earnings cycle is just feeding that volatility engine once again. (To know more about analyzing a business, read How To Evaluate A Company's Balance Sheet.)

Good Performance All Around  
Weight Watcher's third quarter was actually pretty strong in many respects. Revenue was up almost 30% as reported, and more than 26% on a constant currency basis. Paid weeks rose 38% and overall attendance was up 9%. North America was strong - revenue was up almost 25%, paid weeks were up almost 26% and attendance jumped more than 13% (though was up just about 5% on a rolling two-year basis). International was not so strong - revenue was up just 7% in constant currency and attendance growth barely surpassed 1%.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

FinancialEdge: 5 Doom And Gloom Wall Street Prophets

People often decry the fact that the media focuses virtually all of its attention on the negative. However, media is a business and business is predicated on demand. If the news says "Everything's hunky-dory, details at 11 p.m.," how many people would tune in? On the flip side, if the news tease is "Something in your house may be slowly killing your children," it's a much more compelling decision not to miss that report. (For more on past predictions, read Guru Investing Advice For Today's Market.)
So it is with the business of Wall Street prophet-hood. Many financial commentators have made a name for themselves, by stepping up and declaring that a particular emperor had no clothes, often well before the majority of people are willing to consider the possibility.

Nouriel Roubini  
Roubini was hardly an unknown before the 2000s, having worked at the IMF, Federal Reserve and within the Clinton administration, but this economist really made his name with his prophecies regarding the housing market in the United States. Called "Dr. Doom," Roubini began commenting in 2005 that the housing market in the U.S. was a bubble, and that there would be a tremendous global fallout from the eventual market collapse and collateral damage in mortgage-backed securities.

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Investopedia: Solazyme May Pay Off On Green Dreams

As embarrassingly high-profile green company bankruptcies, in recent weeks, have reminded investors that governments may be poor at picking long-term winners, it is also worth repeating that it's not easy being green. Conventional methods of producing energy are cheap, easy and reliable, and those are high hurdles for new technologies to surmount. Nevertheless, while there is ample uncertainty left, Solazyme (NASDAQ: SZYM) is a green-tech company with technology well-worth a look from aggressive investors.   

Quarterly Results are Trivial 
In the larger scheme of things, Solazyme's quarterly earnings reports don't matter much right now because, frankly, there are no earnings. Solazyme did announce that revenue rose 93% from last year, but with total revenue still below $9 million, it's not all that significant. Likewise the GAAP net loss of $14 million is not so significant.

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Investopedia: IGT Has Gone Back To Its Knitting And Is Reaping The Benefits

Every company has to figure out that delicate balance between not messing up the key attributes that brought it success, while changing enough to stay relevant and find new sources of growth. In recent years, leading game technology and machine vendor International Game Technology (NYSE:IGT), seemed to get too entranced in new technologies, follow-on products and expansion, allowing rivals like Bally Technologies (NYSE:BYI) and WMS Industries (NYSE:WMS), to grab share on the casino floor. While this remains a competitive market and IGT is not such a cheap stock, it looks as though IGT may have fixed what ailed it and is ready for another growth spurt.

A Good Close to the Year 
For the first time in over a year, IGT was able to deliver year-on-year revenue growth to its shareholders. Revenue rose 14% this quarter, blowing away the average estimate and the high end of the range, as well. To add a little more perspective, this is the strongest result since the December quarter of 2009.

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Investopedia: Medicis May Not Stay Independent

There are a lot of interesting talking points to take from Medicis Pharmaceutical's (NYSE:MRX) latest earnings report. The company certainly does deserve praise for how it has managed potential generic threats to Solodyn, as well as arguably maximizing what it could from its LipoSonix business. Looking ahead, there is certainly the possibility that Medicis can become a more formidable competitor to Allergan (NYSE:AGN), but shareholders may want to consider the likelihood that Medicis will be folded into a larger pharmaceutical company in the not-so-distant future.

So-So Results for the Third Quarter  
Although there was no glaring problem area for Medicis, this quarter, it was still not all that strong. Revenue rose about 4%, and came in basically at the bottom end of the range. Growth in the core acne business was light (below 1%), while non-acne revenue rose 12% on strong unit sales of Restylane and Dysport.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Investopedia: Can Sysco Sidestep The Squeeze?

When it comes to food distributor Sysco (NYSE:SYY), there certainly can be too much of a good thing. A controlled rate of food inflation is not a bad thing for this company, but when inflation gets too high, even a company as well-managed as Sysco can find that passing through all of those costs is more than their model can sustain. It's hard to imagine how Sysco won't be fine for the long haul, but the company may find it hard to maintain margins, during this period of turbulent food prices and stretched consumers.

A Mediocre Start to the Year  
Perhaps it's some testament to the quality and consistency of Sysco, that a couple pennies here or there have some analysts fretting about earnings quality, for this fiscal first quarter. At the top line, revenue growth of nearly 9% sounds pretty good, but that shine rubs off quickly. For starters, the company saw food inflation of over 7%, as well as kickers from acquisitions and foreign exchange. All in all, although the company reported that case volume rose more than 1%, underlying growth was actually ever so slightly negative for this quarter.

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Investopedia: If CareFusion Can Execute, This Is A Major Bargain

Admittedly, it's not hard to create a basket of too-cheap health care stocks, today, and almost every one of these stories has a sizable "but." In the case of CareFusion (NYSE:CFN), though, slimming down that "but" seems relatively manageable. The company still has a ways to go in improving its returns on capital, but CareFusion's market positioning should make solid returns achievable. However, Wall Street presently gives CareFusion little credit.

A Mixed Start to the Year 
For its first fiscal quarter, CareFusion reported that revenue rose 4%. Growth was led by the "Medical Systems" business at 9%, while the "Procedural Solutions" business saw revenue decline 2%. Dispensing technologies, which is part of Medical Systems, saw 16% reported topline growth. Infusion was surprisingly strong at 7%, while respiratory care and specialty disposables were laggards.

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Investopedia: Smoke Starting To Billow From The OmniVision Story

For some time now, I have thought that the bears had it wrong on OmniVision (NASDAQ:OVTI) and that even if the company was losing some of its technological lead over Sony (NYSE:SNE), Aptina and STMicroelectronics (NYSE:STM), the stock was still too cheap relative to its prospects and cash on the balance sheet. As it turns out, though, those wisps on the horizon weren't just clouds, but actual smoke, and it seems like OmniVision may have a very real problem on its hands. 

The News Is Getting Worse
OmniVision didn't exactly have investors excited with its last earnings report in August. At that point, the company talked about some product delays and revised revenue guidance lower - due supposedly to problems with tablet customers.

As it turns out, the company did not go nearly far enough. OmniVision announced on November 7, 2011 that it was once again revising guidance lower, taking the numbers for the next quarter down another 20% or so to a range of $212 million to $217 million, a steep fall indeed from the $300-million-plus level of not so long ago. Making matters worse, the company was fairly cryptic about the reason - simply referring to "unexpected cutback in orders for certain key projects."

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