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

Industrial Alliance Securities analyst Elias Foscolos feels investors have discounted many Pipeline and Midstream stocks “without considering how difficult it will be to displace hydrocarbon fuels globally.”

In a research report released Monday previewing fourth-quarter 2020 earnings season, he said he expects Canadian production to grow over the next 5-10 years, “which could be a catalyst for multiple expansion.”

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“The perception that hydrocarbon usage is declining (the greenhouse gas component of ‘E’ in ESG) has likely contributed to multiple compression,” said Mr. Foscolos.

“We can observe how stocks reacted over the last year compared to expectation changes in 2021 EBITDA. For instance, from December 2019 to today, TRP’s 2021 EBITDA forecast has remained essentially flat (although there is a minor addition from TC Pipelines that was not forecasted a year ago), yet the stock was down 25 per cent (total return negative 20 per cent). We contrast this with H in which 2021 EPS has been trimmed by a few percentage points yet the stock experienced a 14-per-cent price return (17-per-cemt total return) in 2020. This exhibit adds another data point that indicates to us that the short-term fundamentals did not drive 2020 returns, supporting our theory that the decline in stock prices is driven by the perceived demise of oil & gas.”

In 2020, Mr. Foscolos’s coverage universe ended down 12 per cent on average, underperforming the TSX by 14 per cent. However, he said January brought a “strong” start to the year.

“Heading into 2021, we are forecasting a potential average total return of 23 per cent from our coverage universe with 6 per cent of that return coming from forecasted dividends and the remainder from stock price appreciation,” he said. “TRP, GEI, PKI, and ALA are expected to lead the pack in terms of projected returns although risks within those companies are drastically different. From a yield perspective, ENB, PPL, and KEY provide the largest dividend yield, while IPL, FTS, and H provide the lowest.”

Mr. Foscolos downgraded a pair of stocks:

* Superior Plus Corp. (SPB-T) to “buy” from “strong buy” with a $14.50 target, down from $15. The average on the Street is $14.04, according to Refinitiv data.

“Despite the recent flurry of tuck-in acquisitions in the U.S., our revised Q4/20 EBITDA estimate of $169-million (Canada $64-million, U.S. $87-million, Chemicals $28-million, Corporate negative $10-million, Q4/19 $173-million) is expected to be flat on a year-over-year basis as both the U.S. and Canada experienced unseasonably warm weather in Q4,” he said. “The U.S. was 10 per cent warmer than last year while Canada was 5 per cent above Q4/19. Due to the timing of the recent U.S. acquisitions, synergy capture is not expected to offset the impact of warmer weather in Q4. Heading into 2021 we have trimmed our EBITDA estimate to $540-million (previously $550-million, Canada Propane $190-million, U.S. Propane $260-million, Chemicals $120-million, Corporate negative $30-million) mostly on the back of a weaker outlook for the Chemicals segment. As a result of the combination of a relatively strong share price and a weaker outlook, we have lowered our target price to $14.50 and our rating.”

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* Enbridge Inc. (ENB-T) to “buy” from “strong buy” with a $50 target (unchanged). The average is $51.19.

Citing its relative outperformance as the key rationale for the downgrade, he said: “Once again, the last quarter has been dominated by pipeline news, however, on an overall basis, we would classify the news as mostly positive for ENB. The Company’s key growth project, the Line 3 replacement project (L3R), is moving ahead and is under construction. Last Friday, ENB received permits from The Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) for its Line 5 Great Lakes Tunnel Project to relocate the portion of the Line 5 pipeline that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. Permits from the Michigan Public Service Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are still required. The Company still faces hurdles with respect to Line 5, which runs across northern Michigan, where the State of Michigan has ordered the pipeline to be shut down in May. Enbridge is opposing this action and we ultimately believe that this pipeline will not be shut down and the replacement tunnel housing the pipeline will be built.... Last week some clarity was provided on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL, ENB 28-per-cent ownership) in which the U.S. Court of Appeals confirmed the previous lower district court’s decision to reverse a key permit for DAPL, but reaffirmed that a shutdown and draining of the pipeline was not necessary while a revised environmental review was taking place. This review could take six months to one year.”

Conversely, Mr. Foscolos upgraded Gibson Energy Inc. (GEI-T) to “strong buy” from “buy” based on recent share price weakness. He kept a $24 target, which falls 59 cents below the consensus.

“For Q4/20, we are anticipating EBITDA of $94-million (unchanged, Infrastructure $97-million, Marketing $4-million, G&A negative $8-million) which is more-or-less in line with consensus,” he said. “We expect a minor positive contribution from GEI’s marketing segment even though the Company has guided for a near-zero contribution. Looking into 2021, we are projecting EBITDA of $492-million ($424-million Infrastructure, $100-million marketing, negative $32-million Corporate), which is also modestly above consensus (4 per cent) and likely driven by our above-consensus expectations on performance from the marketing segment (guidance typically $80-120-million). The three most likely growth capital projects that could be announced during 2021 and act as catalyst events include (a) increased tankage at Hardisty to support larger throughputs through Enbridge’s Line 3 expansion, (b) additional tankage at Edmonton to support increased throughput through the TMX pipeline expansion, or (c) an expansion of the Diluent Recovery Unit (DRU) at Hardisty to add heavy oil egress capabilities. In our view, an expanded DRU becomes more likely as President Joe Biden’s cancellation of the KXL permit increases the need to provide additional egress for Canadian heavy oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast.”

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In reaction to its recent share price appreciation, Canaccord Genuity analyst Yuri Lynk lowered his rating for WSP Global Inc. (WSP-T) to “hold” from “buy” on Monday.

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The Montreal-based environmental consulting firm has risen 25 per cent over the last 12 months, outperforming the 1-per-cent decline in the broader TSX.

“This, combined with some emerging headwinds, namely, a strong CAD, weak industry billings data, and, in our view, aggressive 2021 consensus estimates, potentially points to more modest gains ahead, in our view,” said Mr. Lynk. “We continue to view WSP as one of the best positioned firms to capitalize on the global infrastructure build-out and one of the best managed firms in our coverage universe. Therefore, we may look to become more constructive on the shares if they were to pull back.”

Mr. Lynk thinks 2021 estimates on the Street have more “downside than upside risk,” pointing to the first-quarter consensus EBITDA projection of $229-million (versus $218-million a year ago).

“After reviewing our model, we’re now of the view Q1/2021 EBITDA will come in at $214-million, down from $230-million previously, and 6.5 per cent below consensus,” he said. “Weighing on the first-quarter EBITDA estimate is the fact there are two fewer billable days, 2,000 fewer employees, and the Canadian dollar is 5.4 per cent year-over-year stronger vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar. The stronger dollar alone represents a $4-million or 2-per-cent headwind.

“Looking to the remainder of 2021, we believe Q2/2021 should see more encouraging growth trends with government spending potentially boosting H2/2021. However, we prefer to be cautious at this point given the aformentioned CAD strength (it is presently 9% above the Q2/2020 average) and weak industry billings data. The Architectural Billings Index fell deeper into contraction territory in Dec. as COVID-19 cases surged. We noted softness in WSP’s own Q3/2020 bookings, which were 14 per cent below the prior 4 quarters’ average.”

He lowered his full-year EBITDA projection to $1.15-billion from $1.21-billion, which is 7 per cent below the consensus.

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Mr. Lynk kept a $120 target. The average on the Street is $129.38.

“WSP’s balance sheet represents the greatest risk to going neutral on the stock,” he said. “Pro forma Golder, WSP has excellent financial flexibility with a 1.3 times net debt-to-EBITDA ratio, at the lower end of management’s target range of 1.0 times to 2.0 times. WSP’s management team are proven acquirers and are operating in a fragmented industry where they can use the company’s healthy valuation multiple to make acquisitions highly accretive to the stock price. However, given the valuation WSP is receiving at present, we believe investors may have partially priced-in another acquisition.”

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Following Friday’s announcement of its acquisition of a 49-per-cent stake in the Baltic Power offshore wind project, Industrial Alliance Securities analyst Naji Baydoun expressed a “greater confidence” in Northland Power Inc.’s (NPI-T) “ability to successfully execute on new offshore wind growth initiatives.”

“Over the years, NPI has established an impressive track record of successfully developing and delivering several offshore wind projects in Europe,” he said. “Therefore, although the Baltic Power project still faces several risks prior to COD in 2026 (including financing and construction risks), we are immediately attributing $2.00 per share to our valuation work for this project.”

Mr. Baydoun said preliminary financial estimates “point to a highly accretive project,” despite Northland not revealing financial details related to the 1,200-megawatt project in the Baltic Sea.

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“Based on the size of the project, our preliminary financial estimates indicate a total capital cost of $3.0-3.5-billion (net to NPI), likely to be funded primarily from project-level debt (75-80 per cent),” the analyst said. “We forecast that the project could potentially generate more-than $70-million per year of FCF to NPI; depending on financing details, this could translate into $0.25-0.30 of FCF per share, or 12-15-per-cent accretion to our current long-term financial estimates. From a valuation perspective, based on NPI’s current forward trading multiples, we estimate that the project could be worth more than $6 per share to valuation.”

Reiterating a “strong buy” recommendation for Northland shares, he hiked his target to $55 from $53. The average on the Street is $51.

“We view NPI as the best investment vehicle for investors to gain exposure to the offshore wind investment theme,” he said. “NPI offers investors an attractive mix of (1) stable cash flows from contracted power assets (more than 2GW net in operation, 10-year weighted average contract term), (2) healthy FCF/share growth (4-7 per cent per year, CAGR [compound annual growth rate] 2019-24, excluding the Taiwan and Baltic Power offshore wind projects), (3) longer-term potential upside from organic development activity and accretive M&A, and (4) an attractive dividend profile (2.5-per-cent yield, 50-70-per-cent FCF payout through 2024).”

Other analysts raising their targets include:

* ATB Capital Markets’ Nate Heywood to $53 from $45 with an “outperform” rating.

“Northland Power has a long history of successfully developing, constructing and operating power projects and continues to actively pursue clean technology development opportunities that fit the strategic asset mix,” said Mr. Heywood. “The Company is well positioned to be an early mover in new renewable markets through offshore wind and continues to execute on that strategy, as evident with this update. Additionally, the Company has developed a supporting cast of highly contracted onshore assets and continues to actively pursue developments in the U.S. and Mexico.”

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* National Bank’s Rupert Merer to $52 from $50 with an “outperform” rating.

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In a research note previewing fourth-quarter earnings season, Canaccord Genuity analyst Scott Chan thinks investor sentiment toward Canadian life insurance companies is “improving,” prompting him to raise his target prices.

His changes are:

  • iA Financial Co. Inc. (IAG-T, “buy”) to $66.50 from $65. Average: $66.83.
  • Manulife Financial Corp. (MFC-T, “buy”) to $28.50 from $28. Average: $26.73.
  • Sun Life Financial Inc. (SLF-T, “buy”) to $68.50 from $66. Average: $67.13.

“We suggest that investor sentiment continues to improve (e.g. roll out of vaccines, yield curve steepening, strong earnings resiliency), while valuations remain attractive. Currently, the Group trades at P/E (fwd.) of 8.6 times which represents a 15-per-cent discount to its historical average (MFC at negative 23 per cent),” said Mr. Chan.

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Calling 5N Plus Inc. (VNP-T) a “market leader building a solid operational track record,” Desjardins Securities analyst Frederic Tremblay said it’s “time for this under-the-radar story to get noticed.”

“We have been extremely pleased with VNP’s evolution into a leading producer of engineered materials and specialty chemicals used in many applications,” he said. “Furthermore, earnings volatility has declined and adjusted EBITDA margin has increased. VNP beat adjusted EBITDA expectations in the last three quarters.”

“In 4Q, we believe VNP’s improved efficiency and focus on higher-margin value-add products enabled significant growth in profitability despite some COVID-19-related revenue headwinds. We forecast adjusted EBITDA of US$6.1-million, up 35 per cent year-over-year. This implies that full-year adjusted EBITDA should exceed management’s US$25–28-million guidance (we forecast US$28.3-million).”

Mr. Tremblay thinks the Montreal-based company could be “the next underappreciated small-cap story to get a valuation re-rate,” noting: “The ongoing evolution of VNP has long been misunderstood or ignored, in our view. While the accumulation of positive developments and a cheap valuation are just starting to catch the investment community’s attention, we still see significant valuation upside. We see similarities with what recently happened with H2O Innovation as it relates to operational milestones being eventually rewarded with a valuation re-rate.”

Keeping a “buy” rating, he raised his target to $4.50 from $3. The average is currently $4.25.

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National Bank Financial analyst Travis Wood made a series of target price changes to TSX-listed energy stocks in his coverage universe on Monday.

His changes included:

  • Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNQ-T, “outperform”) to $33 from $34. The average on the Street is $37.94.
  • Imperial Oil Ltd. (IMO-T, “sector perform”) to $31 from $30. Average: $25.93.
  • Crescent Point Energy Corp. (CPG-T, “outperform”) to $3.75 from $3.50. Average: $3.51.
  • Vermilion Energy Inc. (VET-T, “sector perform”) to $7 from $6.50. Average: $7.45.
  • Seven Generations Energy Ltd. (VII-T, “outperform”) to $9.50 from $8.50. Average: $8.06.

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Negative catalysts have “played out” for Nikola Corp. (NKLA-Q), according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.

Now see execution as the key for the electric truck maker’s team heading into 2021, he raised his rating for its shares to “neutral” from “underperform.”

“Our main concerns around the Nikola story since September were centered on the shifting GM partnership, Badger hype, and execution risks post the Trevor [Milton] departure,” he said. “While some clear hurdles remain for Nikola to achieve its hydrogen and semi-truck vision over the next year, we believe most of the negative catalysts we were fearing have now played out in the market with a more balanced risk/reward on the name looking ahead. Overall we still believe the company’s EV and hydrogen fuel cell ambitions are attainable in the semi-truck market. Importantly, we also believe in a Biden Administration and Blue Senate the green initiatives domestically will be massive around EV/hydrogen endeavors over the coming years and could significantly benefit and accelerate Nikola and its Arizona factory footprint build out ambitions.”

“With Nikola a pre-revenue company at this point, it’s all about the management team laying out the execution, timetable, and build out strategy for its EV/Hydrogen fuel cell roadmap. With the prototype trucks in Germany completed and the Arizona flagship factory build-out right on schedule, we believe more strategic hydrogen partnerships could be on the near-term horizon both in the US and across Europe. Overall we still believe the company’s EV and hydrogen fuel cell ambitions are hittable in the semi-truck market, although we still have lingering concerns that the execution and timing of these ambitious goals stay on track over the coming years. Despite the controversy and noise surrounding the departed founder and former Chairman Trevor Milton, he was the visionary, architect and internal/external force driving Nikola for the coming years and he left a void (for now), although CEO Mark Russell and CFO Kim Brady have done an impressive job in our opinion getting the Nikola story back on track after a tumultuous few months.”

Calling it a “a story stock and a ‘prove me’ name for now,” Mr. Ives hiked his target for Nikola shares to US$25 from US$15. The average on the Street is US$28.33.

“We also believe much of the Street hype around the Nikola story has been taken out with the slimmed down GM partnership (no ownership stake), sunsetting the Badger product line, and toning down general expectations over the next 12 to 18 months,” he said. “Nikola is a pre revenue company with lofty ambitions and a solid product roadmap, now it’s about building back Street credibility one step at a time brick by brick. It is the company’s investments into a hydrogen powered battery and the benefits of this type of electricity/battery vs. the traditional battery electric motors currently used in EV’s globally that is a key part of driving the value proposition in the eyes of investors on this story stock. Hydrogen has the same benefits of electric vehicles as it uses the same electric motors while also eliminating many of the issues that come from battery electric vehicles such as heavy duty fast fueling in minutes. In a nutshell, NKLA is a ‘prove me’ story looking ahead and the company laying out a tight and step by step roadmap that investors can clearly judge success/failure will be the key to success between now and 2023 in our opinion.”

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Ahead of the launch of its new crispy chicken sandwich on Feb. 24, Citi analyst Sergio Matsumoto opened a positive catalyst watch for McDonald’s Corp. (MCD-N) after doubling his U.S. comparable same-store sales growth estimate to 12 per cent for the first half of the year.

“The launch occurring in the midst of the lockdown brings an advantage for MCD that is underappreciated, in our view,” he said. “MCD’s high store density of 41 units per million population creates a ‘captive audience’ effect because the reduced mobility leads consumers to go to the nearest drive-thru, which oftentimes is McDonald’s. U.S. sales represent 38 per cent of group sales. Our proprietary Geo-Tracker indicates consumers are still not yet using the dine-in channel, which is 49 per cent open at Burger King.”

Mr. Matsumoto thinks the sandwich could capture “significant” first-time trials and also emphasized its “stepped-up marketing push.”

“MCD’s legacy sandwich (before the upgrade) already ranked surprisingly high, or #2 behind category leader Chick fil-A, according to Citi’s Innovation Lab survey of 820 consumers,” he said. “MCD’s ubiquity is a factor behind that result. Upgraded chicken sandwich products have a wide following ever since Popeyes’ launch in August 2019.”

“We expect MCD to implement significant marketing around the launch on both traditional and digital media. As such, upgraded chicken sandwich could bring many early adopters and repeat purchases. Management highlighted the chicken sandwich launch as one of 2021′s most important initiatives during the results call on January 28.”

He maintained a “neutral” rating and US$230 target for McDonald’s shares. The average is US$241.93.

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In other analyst actions:

* Barclays analyst Adrienne Yih downgraded Canada Goose Holdings Inc. (GOOS-N, GOOS-T) to “equal weight” from “overweight” with a US$37 target, while TD Securities’ Meaghen Annett cut her target to $58 (Canadian) from $60 with a “buy” rating. The average on the Street is $41.78.

* TD Securities analyst Cherilyn Radbourne upgraded Methanex Corp. (MEOH-Q, MX-T) to “buy” from “hold” with a US$46 target, down from US$50. The average is US$41.62.

* TD Securities’ Tim James lowered his Air Canada (AC-T) target to $26 from $28 with a “buy” rating. The average is $27.33.

* Canaccord Genuity analyst Robert Young cut his target for shares of Real Matters Inc. (REAL-T) to $30 from $35, keeping a “buy” rating. The average is $28.38.

“Real Matters reported a small beat in FQ1 with net revenue growth of 24 per cent driven by continued strong originations volumes across U.S. and Canada coupled with market share gains,” said Mr. Young. “Looking ahead, we expect seasonal spring mix shift towards purchase origination to reduce exposure to waivers, supporting sequential appraisal growth. However, we also expect an air pocket in Q2 as Real Matters invests in capacity expansion to prepare for probable Title wins in the latter half of Q2 and expectations of adding a Tier1 in 2021. Real Matters has continued to court Tier1 U.S. lenders as potential Title customers, holding discussions with the majority of them. We believe there is significant upside from a Tier1 win given the volume potential and likelihood of follow-on wins with other Tier1s, as was the case in Appraisal. We continue to have confidence in H2 growth despite reduced estimates to reflect Q2 capacity expansion and generally higher waiver levels.”

* Raymond James analyst Rahul Sarugaser initiated coverage of Opsens Inc. (OPS-T) with an “outperform” rating and $2.50 target, exceeding the $2.31 average.

“We believe OPS’ share of the rapidly expanding FRR/dPR market is beginning to grow, so, after a long period of relatively slow growth, we expect to see sales escalating materially during the next 4-6 quarters,” he said. “We see further upside optionality in OPS’ new cardiology applications — specifically, in TAVR — and in its medical device and industrial partnerships.”

* BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Fadi Chamoun raised his rating for Westshore Terminals Investment Corp. (WTE-T) to $18 from $15, maintaining a “market perform” rating. The average is $20.10.

* BMO’s Peter Sklar raised his Parkland Corp. (PKI-T) target to $50 from $45 with an “outperform” rating. The average is $48.46.

* CIBC World Markets initiated coverage of Ballard Power Systems Inc. (BLDP-Q, BLDP-T) with a “neutral” recommendation and US$8 target. The average is US$32.30.

* National Bank Financial analyst Matt Kornack resumed coverage of Dream Industrial REIT (DIR.UN-T) with an “outperform” rating and $13.75 target, while CIBC’s Dean Wilkinson hiked his target to $14.25 from $13 with an “outperformer” rating. The average is $14.06.

* National Bank’s Shane Nagle resumed coverage of Nevada Copper Corp. (NCU-T) with a “sector perform” rating and 20-cent target. The average is 30 cents.

* National Bank’s Zachary Evershed raised his target for Cascades Inc. (CAS-T) to $22.50 from $21 with an “outperform” recommendation. The average is $18.57.

* CIBC’s Mark Petrie raised his target for Primo Water Corp. (PRMW-N, PRMW-T) to US$18 from US$17 with an “outperformer” rating. The average is US$18.86.

* Scotia Capital analyst George Doumet cut his target for Premium Brands Holdings Corp. (PBH-T) to $128 from $131 with a “sector outperform” rating. The average is $119.50.

“For Q4, we see a similar set up to last quarter where margins exceeded expectations driven by strong operating leverage and aided by a deflationary input cost environment,” he said. “We are largely in line for sales (9.5-per-cent year-over-year growth) but ahead on margins (8.1 per cent vs. consensus expectations of 7.6 per cent). Looking beyond Q4, we see upside from the CLR acquisition, which in our view, has only partially been priced in. Furthermore, we see continued earnings upside over the NTM [next 12 months] from additional M&A, albeit at a more modest pace.”

* RBC Dominion Securities analyst Irene Nattel lowered her target for Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (MFI-T) to $33 from $34 with an “outperform” rating. The average is $34.25.

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