Jefferies Makes Big Changes to Franchise Picks Stocks List

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With the end of the first quarter looming, many of the top firms we cover on Wall Street are making some end-of-quarter changes to the list of top stocks that they show to institutional and high net worth clients. This is a standard practice on Wall Street, as all the top brokerage firms and banks want to keep the very best companies on their lists, and more importantly, they want to post the best possible numbers for the quarter.

It is also important to note that even if a stock is removed, it often retains the Buy rating as value may still be present, but factors surrounding catalysts and other factors may have changed. In a new research report, the analysts at Jefferies remove two companies from the firm’s Franchise Picks list, though both retain their rating of Buy.

Manitowoc

This company was removed from the list as the catalysts the Jefferies analysts view as important have passed. Manitowoc Co. Inc. (NYSE: MTW) is a leading global manufacturer of cranes and lift solutions with 49 manufacturing, distribution and service facilities in 20 countries.

Manitowoc is recognized as one of the premier innovators and providers of crawler cranes, tower cranes and mobile cranes for the heavy construction industry, which are complemented by a slate of industry-leading aftermarket product support services. In 2015, Manitowoc’s revenues totaled $1.9 billion, with over half of these revenues generated outside the United States.

The stock has been hitting 52-week lows recently and may be mired there for a while. The Jefferies price target for the stock is $18.50, and the Thomson/First Call consensus target is set at $12.84. Shares closed most recently at $4.12.


Mallinckrodt

This company has been on a mergers and acquisitions binge over the past two years, but it got rocked last year when concerns arose over the company’s business model and results. Mallinckrodt PLC (NYSE: MNK) is a global specialty biopharmaceutical and medical imaging business that develops, manufactures, markets and distributes specialty pharmaceutical products and medical imaging agents.

Mallinckrodt’s areas of focus include therapeutic drugs for autoimmune and rare disease specialty areas like neurology, rheumatology, nephrology and pulmonology; neonatal critical care respiratory therapies; and analgesics and central nervous system drugs.

The company reported adjusted earnings in the first quarter of fiscal 2016 (ended Dec 25, 2015) that beat the Wall Street consensus estimates and increased from in the year-ago quarter. Net sales were up around 19% from the year-ago quarter and exceeded the street estimates. Some unfavorable foreign currency movements hurt sales, but it was still an outstanding report in a tough environment. The Jefferies team also noted that the company raised fiscal 2016 guidance, another strong positive.

The Jefferies analysts note that pricing will remain an issue, so they kept the Buy rating, but the stock comes off the Franchise Picks list.

The Jefferies price target for Mallinckrodt is set at $85. However, the consensus target price is much higher at $94.71. The stock closed Thursday at $63.50 per share.

WestRock

Last summer saw the merger of two top packaging and container companies, and that could provide an outstanding opportunity for investors, as the stock has been absolutely mauled since the merger. WestRock Co. (NYSE: WRK) is the completed and merged entity that combined old Rock-Tenn and MeadWestvaco.

WestRock has become the second-largest U.S. packaging company, valued at $10.7 billion, trailing only International Paper and its market capitalization of just under $15 billion. WestRock is expected to generate net sales of $15.7 billion and adjusted EBITDA of $2.9 billion. This includes the impact of $300 million in estimated annual synergies, to be achieved over three years.

The Jefferies analysts note that the company announced a stock repurchase program last year of 40 million shares, which is equal to 15% of the shares outstanding. It also announced a very generous 17% increase in the company dividend. The current dividend will be $1.50 per share, or $0.375 per quarter.

The stock remains on the list despite violating the firm’s 20% down stop-loss policy as the analysts feel the stock is ready to rally. WestRock trades with a 12% free-cash-flow yield, and owing to demand resiliency and lower spending, the Jefferies team believes cash flow can hold up even in a tougher economic environment. They also think that the stock could be up 25% to 50% if container board prices hold.

WestRock investors will receive a very tempting 4.21% dividend. But note that the $56 Jefferies price target is much lower than the consensus target of $70.56. Shares closed Thursday at $35.04.

All these stocks remain Buy rated at Jefferies, but they have been pummeled and could continue to trade sideways. They may be solid additions to a watch list. Investors should look for them breaking a downtrend and perhaps consider buying shares.