Markets & Finance

S&P Picks and Pans: GM, MBIA, Comcast, Agilent, Lojack


Analysts' opinions on stocks in the news Wednesday

From Standard & Poor's Equity ResearchS&P KEEPS SELL OPINION ON SHARES OF GENERAL MOTORS (GM; 2.16):

Regardless of whether concessions likely to be offered by various stakeholders, in conjunction with GM's restructuring plan presented to the U.S. Treasury, can restore GM to long-term viability, we see reduced value to existing common shareholders. In exchange for concessions and assistance, we believe GM would offer equity to stakeholders, and we would expect the value of existing GM shares to be diluted. If an equity exchange is not accepted, GM could file for bankruptcy protection. We are cutting our 12-month target price by $1 to $0.50, our lowest target price available. -E. Levy-CFA

S&P RAISES OPINION ON SHARES OF MBIA INC. TO BUY FROM HOLD (MBI; 4.15):

We view as positive MBI's restructuring plan aimed at creating a separate municipal bond insurance unit. MBI has transferred an insured portfolio of $537 billion (net par outstanding) to new entity National Public Finance Guarantee Corp. The new unit will have policyholder surplus of $800 million. Our outlook is tempered by our view that this unit will need additional capital. However, we view MBI shares as undervalued in light of resolution we see this move bringing. We expect more details when MBI reports fourth quarter on March 3. Our target price remains $6, 0.5 times estimated 2009 book. -C. Seifert

S&P MAINTAINS SELL OPINION ON CLASS A SHARES OF COMCAST CORP (CMCSA; 12.89):

Before $600 million impairment charge ($0.13/share), fourth quarter EPS of $0.27, on 6% less shares, vs. $0.20 is $0.04 and $0.05 above S&P and Street estimates. But despite benefit from digital phone launch since 2005, fourth quarter revenue-generating unit net adds of 537,000 broached 3-year lows, likely reflecting current economic conditions and the competitive landscape. With $3.7 billion of 2008 free cash, CMCSA raises quarterly dividend by 8% to $0.0675/share ($0.27 annually), an encouraging, if not overwhelming, financial signal. We expect a.m. update on DOCSIS 3.0 launches, perhaps comment on early 2009 trends. -T. Amobi - CPA, CFA

S&P REITERATES HOLD RECOMMENDATION ON SHARES OF AGILENT TECHNOLOGIES (A; 17.65):

Agilent posts January-quarter operating EPS of $0.20, vs $0.36, missing our $0.30 estimate. Sales fell 16%, on a 49% decline in the semiconductor board and test and a 23% drop in the electronic measurement businesses. Bio-analytical sales fell slightly, with strength in the academic and government markets as well as food and safety. We are encouraged by Agilent's cost-reduction efforts, intended to result in annualized savings of $150 million. We lower our fiscal year 2009 (October) operating EPS estimate to $0.91 from $1.53 and set fiscal year 2010's at $1.49. We reduce our 12-month target price by $2 to $19, a p-e above peers. -A. Zino-CFA

S&P LOWERS OPINION ON SHARES OF LOJACK CORP TO SELL FROM HOLD (LOJN; 4.52):

LOJN reports fourth quarter operating EPS of $0.12, vs. $0.21, above our $0.11 forecast. The upside reflects a narrower-than-expected revenue decline of 13%, and tighter control over expenses than we projected. We think global economic weakness will hurt end-market demand in the near-term. In addition, we are concerned that sales of new products will take longer than expected to ramp up. As a result, we are trimming our 2009 operating EPS estimate by $0.02 to $0.39. But we maintain our target price of $4, based on a peer-discount p-e ratio of 10.3 times that estimate. -R. Khalid, CFA


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