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New foreign rules put Athabasca Oil lease deal at risk: RBC

Athabasca oil sands digger, Albian Sands, Alberta, Canada.

Dieter Blum/Shell

Inside the Market's roundup of some of today's key analyst actions

Ottawa's new restrictions on foreign investment in Canadian energy firms has put Athabasca Oil Corp.'s plans for a multibillion-dollar joint venture at some of its oil leases in jeopardy, warns RBC Dominion Securities analyst Mark J. Friesen.

He cut his price target on Athabasca by $3 to $14, while reiterating a "sector perform-above average risk" rating.

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Athabasca recently signed a memorandum of understanding with an unnamed third party to help develop its Hangingstone and Birch oil sands leases. The third party is widely believed to be with be a state-owned enterprise (SOE) and last August, Kuwait's ambassador to Canada confirmed that senior Kuwait Petroleum Corp. officials had signed a memorandum of understanding. Spanish company Repsol YPF SA is also believed to be involved.

"While investors may view the statements as positive for Athabasca's chances of announcing a new joint venture partnership, we do see increased risk in completion of the joint venture with an SOE and a possible extension of closing timelines, as the government has authority to review these investments on a case-by-case basis," Mr. Friesen said in a research note.

Athabasca already has a joint venture with PetroChina to develop its Dover oil sands lease. Under the new standards announced by the federal government, PetroChina may be considered as a state-owned enterprise that could run afoul of foreign investment rules.

PetroChina is on the receiving end of a put option on Athabasca's stake in the Dover project. That option agreement is not expected to be impacted by the revised standards, however, since PetroChina has already acquired a 100 per cent controlling interest in the MacKay oil sands project under the same put/call provisions, Mr. Friesen noted.

Athabasca Oil shares are down 1.5 per cent at midday at $10.09.

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Despite its recent pullback, the Street has maintained an overwhelmingly bullish stance on Apple Inc., with 50 of 58 analysts rating the stock as a buy. But there are emerging signs of caution even in the analyst ranks.

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Peter Misek of Jefferies & Co. today cut his price target to $800 (U.S.) from $900 over concerns the iPhone maker's growth rate is set to slow starting in 2014. He predicts markets will become saturated with its products.

Mr. Misek believes Apple may launch the iPhone 5S by early summer, instead of introducing the new product in the fall, as it has done with earlier versions. That would boost earnings per share for fiscal 2013, but that won't stop growth rates from slowing, he said.

Apple shares are down 25 per cent since hitting a record high of $705 (U.S.) in September. They remain under pressure today, down nearly 1 per cent at $528.31.

Mr. Misek is still recommending the stock, despite scaling back his expectations for returns.

"We believe the stock remains a buy, as expectations have been significantly reset and even a below-market multiple implies substantial upside to the current stock price," Mr. Misek said in a research note.

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Bank of Nova Scotia will continue to trade at a premium of about 6 per cent to its peers because of its earnings stability and momentum, said Canaccord Genuity analyst Mario Mendonca.

The bank's international strategy and acquisitions support above-average earnings growth, Mr. Mendonca pointed out in a research note. "The acquisition of ING Direct should allow BNS to outpace its peers in 2013 and importantly, narrow the funding gap," he said.

Upside : Mr. Mendonca raised his target price to $62 from $61 and rates the stock "buy."

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SNC Lavalin Group Inc. scored three big wins last week as it won approval for a $1.5-billion transmission line, secured a master services contract from an Aramco joint venture and received a surprise dividend from 407 ETR, said Raymond James analyst Frederic Bastien.

"We continue advocating purchase of the shares as we feel SNC has too many positive factors going in its favour for them to languish at current trading levels," he wrote in a research note.

Upside : Mr. Bastien has $52 price target on the stock and rates it "outperform."

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Westshore Terminals Investment Corp. faces capacity constraints after an accident at one of its two berths, which is without power and accounts for as much as 60 per cent of volumes, said CIBC World Markets analyst Jacob Bout.

"In the near term, we do not believe Berth 2 can materially increase tonnage to make up for the loss," Mr. Bout said. "The business outlook for terminals is strong, with volumes expected to move up, as well as stable cash flows due coming from the fixed-price contracts. That said, the positive outlook seems fully priced at this point."

Downside: Mr. Bout reduced his near-term earnings estimates to account for lost production. He rates the stock "sector underperform" and has a $23 price target.

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For more analyst actions, breaking investing news and analysis, follow Darcy Keith on Twitter at @eyeonequities

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Investment Editor

Darcy Keith is The Globe and Mail's Investment Editor. He has been a business journalist since 1992 and joined the Report on Business in 2010 from Yahoo! Canada, where he was the senior editor of finance. More

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