Sunday, December 02, 2007

Barron's Summary (CAL, DAL, LCC, PRKR, WU, MMR, BIDZ)

Barron’s cover discusses a new battle of the Atlantic, which is about to begin by the giant airlines flying the lucrative trans-Atlantic routes between Europe and the US. It all will center on London's Heathrow Airport, which, under the terms of a new international aviation pact signed by the US and the EU, will now finally be open to all comers. Air travelers certainly will win, with trans-Atlantic fares falling by 10% or more. And depending on exactly how it plays out, the deregulation could help the stocks of US carriers like Continental (CAL), Delta (DAL) and US Airways (LCC), previously barred from Heathrow. At the same time, British Airways (BAIRY), believed to get as much as 60% of its operating profit from trans-Atlantic flights, is sure to face serious challenges. Ditto American Airlines (AMR), which has a bigger presence at Heathrow than any other US carrier. As the skirmishing spreads, it could well touch off a fresh round of aviation mergers in Europe. And the emergence of fewer but bigger players in Europe could, in turn, accelerate consolidation among major US carriers.

Fund exec likes CSCO, BUCY, KO, BGC, EMC and NVDA. Top holdings at another fund include GILD, ALXN, CVS, DNA, WLP, ELN, CEPH, MRK, CAH and ONXX.

Barron’s highlights ParkerVision (PRKR), which has lost $160m over 17ys without delivering a successful product. “Once in a while, you stumble across a co with technical claims so outrageously false or stupid," says Mike Farmwald, a well-known Silicon Valley inventor, entrepreneur and venture investor who founded Rambus, Matrix Semic and other co’s, "that you feel you have to do something about it." What he's done is short the stock, convinced that ParkerVision is worthless. His conviction appears well-founded. He's had the world's leading experts on radio power amps examine ParkerVision's patents. He's talked to the decision makers at co’s where ParkerVision has pitched its technology. No one has seen credible evidence that it works. "For these guys," reports Farmwald, "ParkerVision is just a bad joke that won't go away."

The co’s that "get it" offer the right combination of merchandise, value and shopping "experience." Those that don't generally have failed to keep pace with changing demographics and consumer needs. Those who “gets it” include COH, JCG, JWN, KSS and TRLG; those who “lost it” include: CHS, GPS, LTD and TLB.

Western Union (WU) shares are cheap, given the company's efficient global money-transfer business and growth opportunities. The stock could gain 20% or more.

“The Trader” column out saying that multibillion-dollar investments in Citigroup (C) from Abu Dhabi, and in E*Trade (ETFC) from a hedge fund, made a case that some financial stocks, at some prices, are becoming worthy of attention. Insurers have been the refuge of choice within the battered sector, and prices reflect their exalted status. Big insurers have analyst days lined up soon, yet option prices on MetLife (MET) and Prudential (PRU), for example, are recently projecting an annualized volatility of just 36%, well below other financial stocks with comparable levels of residential-mortgage-backed securities exposure on their books. Given investors' abject fear of mortgage contagion, Goldman Sachs' option strategist Maria Grant suggests buying reasonably-priced puts as a hedge. While the firm is bullish on, for instance, Prudential, she believes there is "asymmetric risk to the downside ahead of these events as mgmt comments are more likely to be believed if they are negative, and approached with caution if they are positive."

“The Trader” also out saying that now that refiner stocks have slipped another 20%, and crude's gains have slowed, the risk-reward profile has improved. Valuations have become more attractive, which could provide a better entry point to buy in for the seasonal swing, says FBR analyst Eitan Bernstein. At 65, Valero (VLO) fetches 7x Bernstein's projected ‘08 ests, compared with the group's avg of 10.6x. Sunoco (SUN), near 67, also is tied to the heating-oil mkt. Bernstein rates both Outperform, as he does Holly (HOC), which has slipped more than 40% since July. Holly has about $400m in cash and no debt, and a recent deal to sell some pipeline assets will add about $171m in cash, increasing the odds that the co will buy back more shares.

“The Trader” discusses McMoRan (MMR), whose shares are off 32% since July. Hoping to find deep gas reserves under the shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico, McMoRan has been drilling at the Flat-rock basin (in which it holds a 19% stake), and reporting hopeful "flow rates" from wells there. Production is slated to begin at year end, and until then it's difficult -- risky, even -- to handicap the wells' potential. Meanwhile, the co's co-chmn, who is also its lead geologist, has been buying McMoran shares enthusiastically, which offers at least a vote of confidence. A recent round of stock sales has helped McMoRan pay down bridge loans. Brad Ruderman of Ruderman Capital likes mgmt's track record in drilling production, and the co's "prodigious cash generation," which is projected to top $300m next year for a FCF yield of nearly 30%. The uncertainty produces disparity even among bullish analysts. For instance, the Street consensus is for McMoRan to earn just 38c a share in ‘08. That suggests the shares, at 11.70, trade at a whopping 31x earnings. But that hefty multiple falls to a mere 12x if one accepts JPMorgan's '08 forecast of 97c. "We think the street has not yet acknowledged the size of McMoRan's Flatrock discovery, nor the implications for the rest of its inventory," argues JPMorgan analyst Brian Kuzma, who has an 18 price tgt on the stock. He calls the pullback "an opportunity for investors willing to learn McMoRan's complicated story."

“Technology Trader” discusses (BIDZ), saying that Citron Research last week published a report that made a slew of troubling assertions about Bidz and some of its auctions. He noted that LA Jewelry, one of Bidz's largest suppliers, is managed by Saied Aframian, who did time in the ‘80s for fencing stolen jewelry. Aframian owns 1.33m BIDZ shares. The longs contend the Aframian connection is too old to matter and note the co is profitable and growing. The shorts believe that something fishy is going on with the auctions. Bidz says it is considering cutting ties to Aframian. CEO Dave Zinberg has built an interesting co but chosen some associates unwisely. Longs believe the co is the next Blue Nile (NILE), which trades for more than 4x forward sales, but it feels to me more like (OSTK), which trades for under 1x sales. If I'm right, that would knock the stock down from around $12 on Fri to $8, about where it started life as a public co. And if the shorts are right, it could go even lower.

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