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(Mark Lennihan/Mark Lennihan/AP)
(Mark Lennihan/Mark Lennihan/AP)

TheStreet.com

Morgan Stanley weighs in on best stocks Add to ...

Morgan Stanley Best Ideas, the global investment bank's top stock picks, when last examined on Dec. 7, comprised eight stocks that were expected to outperform benchmarks. Here's a look at how those stocks have performed since Dec. 7. For purposes of comparison, the S&P 500 Index has gained 6 per cent since that date.

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Apple plus-7 per cent

BorgWarner plus-12 per cent

Ford minus-13 per cent

Republic Services plus-2 per cent

Schlumberger plus-8 per cent

Scripps Networks minus-3 per cent

Tyco plus-10 per cent

Union Pacific plus-2 per cent

Four of the bank's eight picks have beaten their large-cap benchmark since Dec. 7. However, several have since been removed from Best Ideas. Scripps was pulled from the list on Feb. 13 due to opacity concerning potential return of capital to shareholders. The bank reiterated its "overweight" ranking on Scripps, which owns Food Network and Travel Network, and expects its stock to rise 19 per cent to $60 (U.S.).

Also, Morgan Stanley added Eastman Chemical to Best Ideas on Jan. 12 and subsequently pulled it, this week, citing higher consensus expectations. Eastman's stock climbed nearly 8 per cent over that span. Morgan Stanley still rates it "overweight."

Apple was removed from the list mid-December due to outperformance, but retained its top ranking.

Here are the current Best Ideas, with price targets and upside projections, followed by an examination of an intriguing new pick: CBS Corp.

BorgWarner , Target: $88, Upside: 20 per cent

CBS Corp. , Target: $27, Upside: 10 per cent

Ford , Target: $21, Upside: 46 per cent

Google , Target: $750, Upside: 30 per cent

Pepsi , Target: $82, Upside: 28 per cent

Schlumberger , Target: $160, Upside: 81 per cent

Tyco , Target: $52, Upside: 17 per cent

Union Pacific , Target: $112, Upside: 18 per cent

Morgan Stanley named CBS a Best Idea on Feb. 24, predicting it will double earnings by 2012. The following is a breakdown of CBS's fundamentals and prospects. It's a stock to consider.

CBS is a media conglomerate, with television, publishing and billboard-advertising revenue streams. Formerly known as Viacom, CBS went public in 2006. Viacom, now an independent publicly traded company, was later spun off. CBS owns its flagship television station, radio stations, with over 130 in U.S. markets, as well as premium-subscription channel Showtime and its subsidiary stations, which include Flix and The Movie Channel.

CBS has lucrative licensing deals for sports broadcasting, including the AFC of the National Football League and the NCAA Men's College Basketball Championship, which is currently enjoying ratings at a 17-year high, in part due to a new four-channel coverage strategy, which includes TBS and TNT. Brand-name assets barely scratch the surface.

CBS also owns book publisher Simon & Schuster and an outstanding interactive media division, which runs tech-site CNET and review aggregator Metacritic. Also, the CBS Outdoor division does more than $2-billion in billboard advertising sales a year. Exposure to this integrated media strategy is offered by few U.S. equities. CBS has more than doubled income and earnings per share, on a trailing 12-month basis. Adjusted fourth-quarter earnings advanced 84 per cent to 46 cents, exceeding consensus by 6 per cent. Sales grew 11 per cent to $3.9-billion, beating consensus by a more modest 1.4 per cent. The operating margin rose from 12 per cent to 16 per cent.

Morgan Stanley expects CBS to benefit from a recent deal with Netflix and climbing advertising spending. Also, its near-peak margins, with a gross spread at 38 per cent, provides opportunity for expansion and brand investment. CBS, which has a market value of $17-billion, is expected to buy back shares, but maintain its dividend, in 2011 and 2012. Morgan Stanley's base-case scenario has CBS rising to $27.

That outcome is consistent with "a steady ad recovery", or a roughly 1 per cent increase in ad sales, and a billion worth of share repurchases in 2011 and 2012 as margins expand by roughly 150 basis points. Its bull case has the stock rising 38 per cent to $34, provided ad sales stretch 3 per cent and the board purchases $1.5 billion of stock during 2011 and $1.5 billion in 2012.

The bear-case target is $18, contingent upon multiple contraction, a decline in ad sales of roughly 2.5 per cent and just $500-million of buybacks in 2011. One notable risk to the bullish thesis is an NFL lockout, which is looking increasingly likely as negotiations between team owners and the players association have broken down in recent weeks due to a dispute over upfront revenue desired by team owners. If this issue isn't resolved soon, the 2011-2012 season is in jeopardy, as are CBS's fall schedule and broadcasting profits.

At quarter's end, CBS held $480-million of cash, down 33 per cent year-over-year, and $6-billion of debt, down 14 per cent year-over-year, for a quick ratio of 0.9 and a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.6. Although other analysts have a net-positive view of CBS, which receives 15 "buy" recommendations, 10 "hold" calls and no "sell" ratings, the median upside target, at $26.25, suggests a modest return during the next 12 months.

Yet, the stock is cheap on the basis of relative valuation, commanding a forward earnings multiple of 13, a book value multiple of 1.7, a sales multiple of 1.2 and a cash flow multiple of 9.6, 52-per-cent, 39-per-cent, 48-per-cent and 68-per-cent peer discounts. Its PEG ratio, calculated by dividing the trailing P/E by the terminal earnings growth forecast, of 0.5 signals a 50-per-cent discount to fair value.

The major upside for CBS, in Morgan Stanley's view, could result from international syndication, which is "a growth sector for the media industry, and CBS - both from a content-quality perspective and as a potential earnings driver - is most exposed."

The recent deal with Netflix, whose streaming subscriber base accounted for more than a third of its quarterly net-subscription additions, is a two-year non-exclusive licensing agreement, allowing Netflix to stream select shows from CBS's library, including currents like Medium and classics like Cheers.

The financial terms of the deal haven't been disclosed, but it is undoubtedly a lucrative move for both parties as much of the content covered, particularly hit classics, also encompassing Family Ties, Star Trek and The Andy Griffith Show, aren't getting playtime on-air, but are likely to attract viewers on the Web, benefiting both parties.

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