) to buy from hold.
Analyst Walter Kirchberger says his upgrade is based primarily on recent price weakness. He says the company has consistently outperformed its peers through an effective acquisition strategy and closer control over operational costs.
He notes management frequently indicated that its long-term growth strategy is based on average annual increases of 4% in customer base, 7% in revenues (including rate relief), and 10% for earnings per share, based on modest improvements in operating margins. He maintains his $0.87 2002 EPS estimate vs. the Street's $0.90; and sets a $1.04 2003 estimate vs. the Street's $1.00. He also raised his 12-month $22.50 target to $24.