Analyst downgrades are a rare event for market darling Apple Inc. these days, especially with iPhones and iPads flying off store shelves.
But JMP Securities' Alex Gauna is taking a bit of a contrarian view, concerned that the tech giant's seemingly unstoppable growth rate is set to slow. He downgraded Apple today to "market perform" from "market outperform," citing a significant slowdown at its primary partner, Hon Hai Precision Industry, Taiwan's top electronics firm.
"Apple and Hon Hai sales growth was tightly coupled throughout 2010, and given Apple's scale, we view it as unlikely that a correlation isn't still in effect as Hon Hai slows," the brokerage was quoted by Reuters as saying.
"We don't know the source of the Hon Hai deceleration, but possible causes could include simply in-line iPhone sales due to more significant Android competition, weakness in computing products as tablet demand grows, and/or product transition risk around the iPad 2," he said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Gauna is going against the tide. He's among just five of 54 analysts with a "sell," "hold" or
"neutral" rating on the stock, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
It's believed to be the first downgrade for Apple since last October, when Canada's Scotiabank lowered its rating to "sector perform."
"There's a risk of complacency. The sell-side has gotten itself into a game on one-upmanship," Mr. Gauna said. Investors "should make sure that they're comfortable with the situation ... especially since there's just so much uncertainty right now."
That uncertainty no doubt includes the possibility of supply constraints arising out of the Japanese crisis. Japan produces considerable glass for the displays used in smart phones and tablets and accounts for about one-fifth of the world's semiconductor production. Many of these factories have closed following Friday's earthquake and tsunami.
Another factor to consider: Japan is believed to account for about 6 per cent of Apple's sales.
JMP Securities does not issue target prices for "market perform" stocks.
Manulife Financial Corp. has taken a bruising in recent weeks, with shares losing about 15 per cent of their value since Feb. 8. Lower interest rates, weakening equity markets and concerns about the impact insurers will feel from the Japanese earthquake have investors turning skittish.
But UBS analyst Peter Rozenberg thinks the selling may be overdone, given the negative influences should be largely short-term in nature.
"Assuming that most of the impact is temporary, we project good long-term value and higher returns, assuming higher [interest]rates of 3.5 to 4 per cent in 2012. Furthermore, we note that the combination of increased hedging and higher capital has significantly reduced risk," Mr. Rozenberg wrote in a research note today.
As for the Japanese disaster, management has indicated the impact will not likely exceed $150-million after tax, which shouldn't be material to full-year results.
Upside: Mr. Rozenberg upgraded the stock to a "buy" from "neutral" and maintained his 12-month price target of $19.50. That implies a not-so-shabby projected return of 22 per cent, plus dividends of 3.2 per cent.
Ramp-up of production at Uranium Energy Corp.'s Palangana project in Texas is taking longer than expected, according to CIBC World Markets Inc. analyst Ian Parkinson. Meanwhile, investors need to consider the risks arising out of the Japanese nuclear crisis to long-term fundamentals for uranium.
Downside: Mr. Parkinson lowered his price target to $6.40 from $7.70.
Daylight Energy Ltd. has suffered a temporary outage at its K3 gas plant, but Canaccord Genuity analyst Kyle Preston said it will have less than 1 per cent impact on estimated 2011 cash flow. This assumes the plant is brought back on line as expected late this month.
Upside: Mr. Preston maintained a "buy" rating and $12.50 price target.
WesternOne Equity Income Fund , an acquirer of infrastructure-related business, enjoyed a solid fourth quarter and has decent debt levels despite a high payout ratio, said Canaccord Genuity analyst Yuri Lynk. The fund yields an impressive 11 per cent and investors should be aggressive buyers on any material weakness, he said.
Upside: Mr. Lynk raised his target price by $1.50 to $5 but reiterated his "hold" rating.