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

IA Capital Markets’ Elias Foscolos continues to see positive momentum for Canadian energy infrastructure companies as vaccination rates increase and pandemic-driven restrictions ease.

In a research note previewing second-quarter earnings season, the equity analyst said he continues to favour pipeline stocks and expects potential upward estimates revisions from the majority of his natural gas liquids commodity-exposed Midstream coverage, emphasizing “margins continue to remain constructive.”

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“Pipelines continue to remain a political hot potato both north and south of the border where delays and challenges continue,” he said. “This is not only limited to oil pipelines such as ENB’s Line 3, 5 and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), but also ALA’s natural gas pipelines such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). For Utilities, the key macro factors tend to be interest rates, the Canadian dollar, and the push for renewable energy in the grid. In the Midstream space, we expect most companies, excluding GEI, to continue to benefit from widening marketing margins with some FX headwinds. We materially differ from consensus in GEI as we forecast a rebound in its marketing segment in H2/21 and throughout 2022.”

Citing potential returns, Mr. Foscolos raised his ratings for a pair of stocks to “buy” recommendations from “hold.” They are:

* Canadian Utilities Ltd. (CU-T) with a $39 target, up from $38. The average on the Street is $36.08.

“Given a combination of factors, including (a) projected total return of more than 15 per cent, (b) 2.5-3.0 times valuation discount to regulated Canadian peers despite business fundamentals not being significantly different, (c) proven track record of delivering ROEs well above the stated regulated ROE for Alberta, and (d) flexible balance sheet with room to expand the current growth profile and invest in incremental renewable opportunities, we are upgrading our rating,” he said.

* Pembina Pipeline Corp. (PPL-T) with a $43 target, rising from $42 and above the $40.94 average.

“Heading into Q2 earnings, we are projecting EBITDA of $858-million (Pipelines $529-million, Facilities $277-million, Marketing $90-million, and G&A negative $38-million), which is at the high end of consensus,” he said. “We are still forecasting contributions from assets to be placed into service during 2021 including its Watson Island Propane export terminal, which will offset some declines in other assets such as the Ruby Pipeline. Our 2021 EBITDA estimate remains unchanged at $3.36-billion (Pipelines $2.1-billion, Facilities $1.1-billion, Marketing $0.3-billion, G&A negative $0.17-billion). We still believe there is the possibility that PPL’s marketing segment could outperform and prompt an upward revision in its EBITDA guidance range of $3.2-3.4-billion. Heading into earnings, we are upgrading our target ... and increasing our rating.”

Conversely, he lowered his rating for Enbridge Inc. (ENB-T) to “buy” from “strong buy” with a $54 target, falling from $56 but exceeding the $52.94 average on the Street.

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“The Company’s key growth project, the Line 3 replacement project (L3R), continues to move ahead and is under construction with an onstream date in late H2/21,” he said. “Once completed, we expect this project will contribute $460-million in annualized EBITDA. InQ2, a US federal judge ruled that the DAPL (ENB 28% interest) may remain operational as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared. In our view, the DAPL ruling as positive as it is, raises the threshold for shutting down an existing pipeline and specifically lowers the prospect of a Line 5, which runs through Michigan, shutdown significantly. Federal regulators have deemed Line 5 to be safe and all permits are in place despite contradicting assertions by the Executive branch of the State of Michigan. We believe this pipeline will not be shut down and the replacement tunnel housing the pipeline will be built although an update on the delayed timeline is expected following the US Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to require an EIS.

“Our Q2/21EBITDA forecast of $3.2-billion (unchanged, $1.78-billion Liquids Pipelines, $0.93-billion Gas and Midstream, $0.41B Gas Distribution, $0.10-billion other) is in line with consensus. Our 2021 EBITDA estimate of $13.8-billion ($7.4-billion Liquids Pipelines, $4.0-billion Gas and Midstream, $1.9-billion Gas Distribution, $0.6-billion other) has been slightly lowered and is on the low end of consensus. The slight downward revision inour 2021/22 estimates pushes our target down to $54.00 (previously $56.00) and the combination of the revised target with a strengthened share price prompts us to downgrade ENB.”

Mr. Foscolos also made these target changes:

  • AltaGas Ltd. (ALA-T) to $28 from $27. Average: $27.87.
  • Emera Inc. (EMA-T) to $62 from $61. Average: $59.82.
  • Hydro One Ltd. (H-T) to $32 from $31. Average: $31.86.
  • TC Energy Corp. (TRP-T) to $72 from $76. Average: $69.79.

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The outlook for Canadian retail real estate has finally “turned positive” after a year of “extreme turbulence” in the sector, according to BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Jenny Ma.

“The retail sector has benefitted from the reopening trade since the arrival of viable COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020,” she said. “With the Canadian retail REITs up 22.9 per cent on average year-to-date, they have performed in line with the REIT sector (up 23.4 per cent) and have outperformed the broader Canadian market (up 15.8 per cent). Notwithstanding all the unknowns while navigating pandemic times (e.g. the spread of variant strains of coronavirus remains concerning), on the retail REITs, we admit we stayed conservative for too long.

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“We believe there are now ample data points to support a more constructive outlook for the retail sector, which in turn should benefit retail landlords.”

In a research report released Monday, Ms. Ma emphasized “significantly improved visibility to a recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” pointing to several sources, including vaccine announcements and rollout; a “materially” improved economic outlook; “evidence of buoyant consumer traffic and activity;” stabilized retail cap rates and “confirmation that Q2/20 was the trough.”

She raised her ratings for both First Capital REIT (FCR.UN-T) and RioCan REIT (REI.UN-T) to “outperform” from “market perform” recommendations.

“The economic reopening and emergence of positive data points have provided greater conviction in a recovery toward pre-pandemic metrics for FCR.UN and REI.UN,” said Ms. Ma. “Although we remain of the view that retail will continue to face challenges, we note that cash flow visibility has improved substantially since the early days of the pandemic, surviving small business/discretionary tenants should benefit from a rebound in foot traffic, and the cadence of tenant failures is likely lower compared to last year. Moreover, fears of negative impacts to highly urban markets have subsided; large Canadian cities remain strong and are well-positioned to benefit from population growth resuming (largely from immigration). Both FCR.UN and REI.UN derive more than 90 per cent of revenue from the VECTOM markets. Taken together, we believe FCR.UN and REI.UN present a relatively more attractive risk/return profile among the retail REIT peer group.”

Her target for First Capital units rose to $20 from $17 (versus a $20.17 average on the Street), while her RioCan target increased to $24 from $21 (versus $22.72).

Conversely, Ms. Ma downgrade Crombie REIT (CRR.UN-T) to “market perform” from “outperform” with a $18.50 target, up from $17. The average is $17.83.

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“Our new rating is solely a valuation call, and we remain constructive on CRR.UN’s essential retailer focused portfolio as well as its development pipeline and track record,” she said. “In 2021 year-to-date, CRR.UN has been the strongest performer among the three sponsored retail REITs, with its unit price up 28 per cent (vs. up 12 per cent for CHP.UN and 8 per cent for CRT.UN). Moreover, CRR.UN has been the strongest performer among the Canadian retail REITs coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its unit price up 10 per cent over its pre-pandemic high, materially outperforming the other retail REITs under coverage.”

Ms. Ma also made these target adjustments:

  • CT REIT (CRT.UN-T, “outperform”) to $18.25 from $17.75. Average: $17.39.
  • Plaza Retail REIT (PLZ.UN-T, “market perform”) to $4.75 from $4. Average: $4.33.
  • SmartCentres REIT (SRU.UN-T, “market perform”) to $30 from $27.50. Average: $30.50.

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After delivering its 13th consecutive EBITDA beat and reiterating an “encouraging” outlook for the remainder of the year, Desjardins Securities analyst Benoit Poirier sees potential upside for Aecon Group Inc. (ARE-T) from ongoing organic and inorganic growth initiatives.

“Going forward, we appreciate how ARE’s story is developing into a compelling cocktail of organic (execution of strong pipeline of opportunities in Canada, potential replacement of the Bermuda Airport concession project and strategic expansion in the U.S.) and inorganic (potential tuck-ins and/or a transformative acquisition) growth opportunities,” he said.

On Thursday after the bell, Aecon reported adjusted EBITDA of $61-million, exceeding Mr. Poirier’s $53-million. He emphasized the financial contribution from government subsidies was “immaterial” in the quarter.

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“The outlook for ARE remains solid in view of the continued ramp-up of construction activity on a number of projects, the healthy backlog, as well as the strong demand environment for ARE’s services, including recurring revenue programs,” he said. “With 4Q20 results, we estimated that ARE could generate annual revenue of $4.0-billion in 2021 assuming no major COVID-19-related disruptions (negatively impacted revenue by $390-million in 2020). That being said, this assumption excluded any large project wins, growth in the recurring revenue business (currently running at TTM of $617-million on a consolidated basis, up from $529-million in 2020) and potential M&A. Thus far, ARE has secured two large contracts, namely the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension (ECWE) advance tunnel project in Toronto and the North End sewage treatment plant upgrade in Winnipeg. ARE also secured a followup nuclear contract for the replacement of steam generators at Bruce Power’s Units 3 and 4 (not all incremental given ARE was already doing some nuclear work for this client in 2020). Accordingly, we believe that our $4-billion revenue forecast for 2021 is conservative.”

Raising his revenue and earnings expectations for both 2021 and 2022, Mr. Poirier increased his target for Aecon shares to $25 from $23, reiterating a “buy” recommendation. The average on the Street is $23.23.

“ARE’s solid operational performance in 2Q gives us additional confidence in management’s ability to unlock shareholder value,” he said. “We see the stock potentially reaching $24–36 by 2023 (excluding M&A and replacement of the Bermuda Airport concession.”

Other analysts making target adjustments include:

* BMO Nesbitt Burns’ Devin Dodge to $20 from $19 with a “market perform” rating.

“While there were reasons for improved optimism in the company’s Q2/21 results, we believe the double-digit lift to the shares was overdone. In our view, there is limited remaining upside to Construction segment earnings estimates while the multiple (ex. Concessions) is at a premium to its North American peers,” said Mr. Dodge.

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* Stifel’s Ian Gillies to $24 from $24.50 with a “buy” rating.

“Aecon is a top idea to own for the second half of 2021 and we believe upside remains after a strong session on Friday (up 11.0 per cent),” he said. “In 2Q21, Aecon beat our EBITDA forecast by 17.5 per cent. Alongside the beat, the company delivered a 10-per-cent quarter-over-quarter increase in backlog and a robust outlook, which supports our positive view. Commentary on the conference call would suggest that larger scale corporate development activities are resuming such as new concessions and M&A.”

* Laurentian Bank Securities’ Troy Sun to $24 from $22 with a “buy” rating.

“Despite shares reacting positively to the robust quarterly print, ARE stock remains in a value territory (6.7 times EV/EBITDA on 2022 numbers), especially since the entire E&C space has seen a pronounced multiple expansion dynamic,” said Mr. Sun. “Backlog of $6.5-billion underpins strong near-term visibility. More importantly, the company is focused now to not just add work, but profitable, diversified and recurring work. We continue to expect the recurring part of the business to scale faster than the general contracting counterpart (Exhibit 1); and potentially lead to a higher multiple for the consolidated entity. Bermuda aviation traffic is seeing early signs of improvement but largely remains a “free” option for investors at this point.”

* RBC’s Sabahat Khan to $20 from $18 with a “sector perform” rating.

“Q2 reflected good top-line progression and better-than-expected EBITDA (aided by CEWS to some extent). Looking ahead, although the operating backdrop is improving, we maintain a cautious view given the current valuation and tougher prior year comparables through H2,” said Mr. Khan.

* CIBC’s Jacob Bout to $24 from $23 with an “outperformer” rating.

* TD Securities’ Michael Tupholme to $24 from $22 with a “buy” rating.

* National Bank Financial’s Maxim Sytchev to $23.50 from $21 with an “outperform” rating.

* ATB Capital Markets’ Chris Murray to $24 from $23 with an “outperform” rating.

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Scotia Capital’s Meny Grauman thinks the outlook for Canadian lifecos remains stable heading into second-quarter earnings season “as investors continue to balance near-term solid operating performance against a longer-term outlook for rates.”

In a research report released Monday, the analyst said he expects earnings to be flat from the first quarter and up 7 per cent year-over-year, which he attributes to “a resilient operating environment and ongoing solid credit experience that continues to stand up to the pressures of the global pandemic.”

“While the backdrop for rates was constructive in Q1, yields dropped in Q2 as investors have begun to question the strength of the post-pandemic recovery and the prospects for a sustained rise in inflation,” said Mr. Grauman. “Interestingly, as Manulife’s Q1 results illustrated very clearly, the prospect of a sustained rise in rates may be good for lifecos in the long run but the implications can get more complicated in the short run.

“Looking out to the approaching reporting season we continue to forecast steady and consistent results with an emphasis on execution, especially for GWO which is busy integrating its MassMutual acquisition (a job that is soon to get bigger with the addition of the Prudential retirement services business early next year), and for IAG which continues to integrate its IAS vehicle warranty business in the US in an environment where auto sales are quite volatile given supply constraints.”

Mr. Grauman tweaked his target prices for lifeco stocks. His changes were:

  • Great-West Lifeco Inc. (GWO-T, “sector perform”) to $40 from $38. The average on the Street is $39.22.
  • IA Financial Corporation Inc. (IAG-T, “sector outperform”) to $88 from $84. Average: $80.89.
  • Manulife Financial Corp. (MFC-T, “sector perform”) to $28 from $27. Average: $29.17.
  • Sun Life Financial Inc. (SLF-T, “sector outperform”) to $77 from $74. Average: $71.36.

“Despite the recent dip in yields, we remain constructive on the sector, but still see more upside for the banks longer term. Among the names we cover we continue to highlight IAG as our top pick in the space even though valuation is not quite what it was this time last year,” he said. “Despite year-to-date outperformance the firm is only trading at 1.2 times book which is in line with its historical average despite significant strategic advancement in the U.S., and a very strong capital position which is helped by very impressive internal capital generation and a very defensive reserving methodology. We also continue to like SLF which despite still trading at a significant premium to the peer average on a price-to-book basis, is very attractive in absolute terms with the company now trading at just under 10.0x consensus 2022. Manulife has been the worst-performing name since last quarter and we see less risk this time around given the drop in rates should help headline EPS and boost its LICAT ratio. That said, we note that tail risk remains the key issue for this name even after its recent investor day, and concern about the impact of IFRS 17 on book value remains front and center in particular. Finally, we continue to be constructive on SFC, a lagging name that has yet to enjoy the fruits of the recovery trade.”

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Previewing the Wednesday release of its second-quarter results, CIBC World Markets analyst Todd Coupland thinks Shopify Inc. (SHOP-N, SHOP-T) is “slightly insulated” from a slowing e-commerce growth.

“After a slow start, Q2 ended strong in June for e-commerce, including for Shopify and its merchants,” he said. “Web traffic growth in Q2 to Shopify’s website was 19 per cent year-over-year We expect Q2 revenue growth of 45 per cent should be achieved (FactSet at 47 per cent). We recommend investors hold Shopify through the Q2 report.”

For the quarter, Mr. Coupland is projecting revenue of US$1.037-billion, up 45 per cent year-over-year but below the consensus projection on the Street of US$1.051-billion. His earnings per share forecast of 99 US cents is 2 US cents higher than the consensus.

The analyst hiked his target for Shopify shares to US$1,700 from US$1,450, reiterating a “neutral” rating. The current average is US$1,559.21.

“Shopify has often beat revenue and EPS expectations since its IPO in 2015. Last quarter, Q1 revenue was 14.6 per cent higher when compared to the average quarterly revenue beat of 7.8 per cent since 2015. Shopify’s share price increased 11.4 per cent last quarter on the first trading day following its report compared to an average price increase of 3.7 per cent (FactSet).”

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Lifespeak Inc. (LSPK-T) “provides investors with unique exposure to the growing global market for enterprise quality virtual wellness solutions,” according to Scotia Capital analyst Adam Buckham.

He initiated coverage of Toronto-based mental-health content creator, which began trading on the TSX earlier this month, with a “sector outperform” recommendation.

“We believe one of the most exciting aspects of the LifeSpeak story is its exposure to what we view as a significant long-term opportunity to provide corporate clients and their employees with quality virtual-based wellness,” he said. “While there are certainly a multitude of providers that access this market from the interventional side (i.e., telehealth and EAP), we believe the market for enterprise quality preventative resources, such as those offered by LifeSpeak, remains a relatively untapped opportunity. Importantly, and unlike a number of potential comparables, LifeSpeak’s model transcends local borders, with the company accessing markets across the world without risk of regulatory barriers. Overall, we expect tailwinds to support robust growth, with a forecast five-year revenue CAGR of 61 per cent.”

Mr. Buckham set a target of $12 per share. It closed trading on Friday at $8.02.

“Following its successful IPO, LSPK shares have declined approximately 16 per cent on what we believe is a mix of illiquidity in shares and general pressure on higher multiple growth companies,” he said. “With this decrease, LSPK’s multiple has contracted to 13.0 times our 2021 estimate (6.5 times on C2022) versus our overall comparable group at 13.5 times (10.5 times on 2022 estimates).

“We believe this represents an attractive entry point for investors and expect LSPK’s multiple to re-rate over time as the market rewards the company for (1) execution on the revenue opportunities that lay ahead for management (potential ARR $290-million), (2) its robust gross margins (91 per cent on a TTM basis), and (3) profitability on adjusted EBITDA and FCF. While some may view our valuation on EV to revenue as rich, on an adjusted EBITDA basis, we note that the company is currently trading at a fairly reasonable 2022 multiple of 11.2 times. As a secondary benchmark, our DCF analysis supports our base valuation, with a target price range of $11 to $14 per share.”

Elsewhere, Canaccord Genuity’s Doug Taylor initiated coverage with a “buy” rating and $13 target, while RBC Dominion Securities’ Paul Treiber gave it an “outperform” rating and $13 target.

“LifeSpeak is benefiting as corporations rapidly adopt digital well-being education solutions. We see LifeSpeak’s growth and profitability more than compensating for execution and other risks inherent at this early stage of the company’s growth,” said Mr. Treiber.

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Cormark Securities analyst Brent Watson adjusted his target prices for a group of TSX-listed energy services companies on Monday.

His changes include:

  • Badger Infrastructure Solutions Ltd. (BDGI-T, “market perform”) to $42 from $45. The average on the Street is $41.69.
  • Secure Energy Services Inc. (SES-T, “buy”) to $6.50 from $5.25. Average: $6.63.
  • Step Energy Services Ltd. (STEP-T, “buy”) to $2.25 from $2. Average: $2.16.
  • Superior Plus Corp. (SPB-T, “buy”) to $18 from $17. Average: $16.19.
  • Trican Well Service Ltd. (TCW-T, “buy”) to $3.25 from $2.75. Average: $3.24.

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In other analyst actions:

* Tudor Pickering Holt analyst Taylor Zurcher upgraded Precision Drilling Corp. (PD-T) to “buy” from “hold”

* Canaccord Genuity analyst Doug Taylor initiated coverage of Montreal-based Dialogue Health Technologies Inc. (CARE-T), which began trading on the TSX in March, with a “speculative buy” rating and $15 target.

“Dialogue is a leading provider of digital health and wellness resources focused on employer and insurer markets,” he said. “The story features high growth as adoption of modernized private-pay health solutions increases and becomes more strategic. In our view, Dialogue has strong momentum and competitive positioning while investing to expand its product portfolio to grab more market share. Our SPECULATIVE BUY rating reflects expectations of ongoing EBITDA losses as the company invests in advance of growth; however, we believe as market share increases and Dialogue approaches profitability, there will be upside to the current valuation range.”

* Following in-line second-quarter results and expecting the reopening of retail tenants to be a “positive” catalyst, Desjardins Securities analyst Michael Markidis increased his target for Choice Properties Real Estate Investment Trust (CHP.UN-T) to $15.50 from $15 with a “hold” recommendation. The average is $15.31.

“CHP’s business has been incredibly resilient over the past 18 months; however, easing restrictions will still have a modestly positive impact on operating metrics over the next year. Development execution continues; however, annual spend is not expected to ramp until large, mixed-use projects in planning get underway,” he said.

* Ahead of the Aug. 5 release of its second-quarter results, Desjardins Securities analyst Gary Ho increase his target for Goeasy Ltd. (GSY-T) to $178 from $168 with a “buy” rating. The average is $177.33.

“While results may be noisy with LendCare (LC) transaction adjustments, day 1 provisioning and Affirm equity FV changes, we expect decent underlying results and the long-anticipated reinstatement of GSY’s three-year outlook targets,” said Mr. Ho. “We have made slight changes and rolled our valuation forward, leading to a target price bump.”

* National Bank Financial analyst Michael Robertson upgraded CES Energy Solutions Corp. (CEU-T) to “outperform” from “sector perform” with a $2.70 target, up from $2.50. The average target on the Street is $2.86.

* National Bank’s Jaeme Gloyn raised his Intact Financial Corp. (IFC-T) target to $207 from $205, exceeding the $188.91 average, with an “outperform” rating.

* CIBC’s John Zamparo cut his target for Tilray Inc. (TLRY-Q) to US$17 from US$20.66 with a “neutral” rating. The average is US$18.08.

“We anticipate a noisy quarter from Tilray’s first reported period (to be released Wednesday, July 28) following closure of the merger with Aphria,” he said. “The quarter includes roughly four weeks of contribution from legacy Tilray and a full quarter of Aphria, while consensus is unknown because of a fiscal year-end shift. Furthermore, the company will transition to reporting under U.S. GAAP and in USD. With the change, we have also adjusted our coverage to the U.S. ticker and USD estimates. We have reduced our FQ4 sales forecast by 12 per cent (ex-FX), as we believe Tilray, like most large players, has lost share in an industry that was unable to grow meaningfully in recent months because of store operating restrictions.”

* CIBC’s Jacob Bout raised his Westshore Terminals Investment Corp. (WTE-T) target to $23.50 from $19, keeping a “neutral” rating. The average is $25.

* CIBC’s Hamir Patel increased his Winpak Ltd. (WPK-T) target to $43 from $42, keeping a “neutral” rating. The average is $47.

* RBC’s Walter Spracklin raised his Air Canada (AC-T) target to $28 from $27, keeping an “outperform” rating, while BMO’s Fadi Chamoun increased his target to $35 from $34 with an “outperform” rating. The average is $28.94.

“AC delivered better-than-expected Q2/21 cash burn underpinned by strong cost control and a significant ramp-up in bookings, which should continue as travel restrictions ease further. Guidance suggests positive EBITDA in Q3/21, which is earlier than we anticipated, and we suspect there is significant pent-up demand to support a quicker recovery than predicted in our prior forecast. Our estimates are revised higher and we see Friday’s pullback as a buying opportunity,” said Mr. Chamoun.

* RBC’s Irene Nattel increased her Loblaw Companies Ltd. (L-T) target to $103 from $96, topping the $80.58 average, with an “outperform” recommendation.

“Loblaw’s strong base of assets (broadly defined) have not, to date, consistently delivered the profitability and returns that they should. To rectify that situation, the recently constructed team of Chairman/ President Galen Weston, CFO Richard Dufresne and COO Robert Sawyer are refocusing on basics, tightening the focus on initiatives to strengthen the core retail business, emphasizing urgency, accountability and heightened agility, surfacing benefits from loyalty, and de-emphasizing/eliminating businesses and investments that are likely to remain marginal,” she said.

* JP Morgan analyst Phil Gresh raised his target for MEG Energy Corp. (MEG-T) to $11.50 from $11 with a “neutral” rating. The average is $11.93.

* JP Morgan’s Jeremy Tonet cut his TC Energy Corp. (TRP-T) target to $70 from $71, exceeding the $69.79 average, with an “overweight” rating.

* Wells Fargo analyst Colin Langan lowered his target for Magna International Inc. (MGA-N, MG-T) to US$88 from US$100 with an “equal weight” rating The average is $109.94.

“While the company has posted solid results though COVID and stands to benefit as the EV startup assembler of choice, we see the stock as fairly valued following the recent run. Given MGA’s diverse business and size, getting a large growth premium will be difficult, and our EPS outlook is broadly in-line with consensus,” he said.

* Cormark Securities analyst Richard Gray cut his Iamgold Corp. (IMG-T) target to $3.75 from $4.50, below the $4.30 average, with a “market perform” rating.

* BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Tom MacKinnon increased his target for shares of Power Corp. of Canada (POW-T) to $41 from $39 with a “market perform” rating The average is $42.38.

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