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Zacks #1 Stocks on the Move 11/27/2015

Company Name Symbol %Change

Analyst Blog

Microsoft (MSFT) Launches Nokia 230 'Perfect' for Selfies

Posted Fri Nov 27, 04:50 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

Software developer Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) unveiled an Internet-enabled feature phone, Nokia 230, which is touted as “perfect for taking and sharing selfies”. Nokia 230, which also comes in a dual-SIM model named Nokia 230 Dual SIM (for users in the habit of switching between phones or networks), is a successor to Nokia 130 from last year.

Both devices have an aluminum back cover, are available in two colors - silver and dark silver and have a 2.8-inch display, with a memory card support of up to 32 GB through microSD and Opera Store.

The key feature of the phone is that it is equipped with two 2-megapixel cameras, one on the back and one on the front. Both cameras are supported by a LED flash, making the device ideal for selfies.

The 2.8 inch display will make it easier for users to play videos. They can also listen to radio stations, or use the MP3 player for music. Also, the device is good for gaming as Opera Store consists of plenty of games.

The device is capable of supporting services, including Facebook FB, Twitter TWTR, Bing Search, MSN Weather and Opera's data-saving Mini Browser.

The phone is priced at $55 and will be available from December in India, Asia and the Middle East. Microsoft will launch the device in other markets around the world sometime in 2016.

Microsoft is trying to make its mark with economical devices and lure value-conscious consumers. These efforts to launch affordable handsets will help the company push into the smartphone market, thereby increasing its market share. Also, by offering economical devices, it is trying to expand its user base. 

We expect the company’s initiatives to draw customers and gain traction in the global smartphone market. But then the Windows Phone still has a tiny market share in comparison to Apple’s AAPL iOS and Google’s Android mobile platforms.

Microsoft shares carry a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

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Carnival Adds 2 Ships to P&O Cruises to Grow in Australia

Posted Fri Nov 27, 04:40 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

Carnival Corporation CCL seems to be betting big on the Australian market. The company recently introduced two new ships – Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden – under the P&O Cruises Australia brand.

With the addition of Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden, P&O Cruises Australia would have five ships operating from eight ports in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore throughout the year. The company also hosted a celebration at the famous Sydney Harbour and a social media naming ceremony.

Over the past decade, Carnival’s presence in Australia has grown rapidly with its local fleet increasing from two to nine ships (including the two recently announced) under three brands – P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line.

P&O Cruises plans to add another ship, Pacific Explorer, to its fleet in the coming months. A ship currently sailing under the Princess Cruises brand and known as Dawn Princess is also expected to enter the P&O Australia fleet in May 2017 and sail from Sydney during the inaugural season.

Australia boasts a rapidly developing cruise market with passenger numbers growing roughly by an average of 20% in each of the past five years and crossing the one million mark in 2014. A stable economy and growing middle class with high disposable income make Australia an attractive bet for Carnival. In fact, the cruise company is looking to mitigate the economic headwinds it is facing in the European markets by deploying more ships to the fast growing Asian shores.

Apart from Australia, the Asia Pacific region is steadily emerging as a major revenue generating market for cruise companies like Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. RCL that are planning to tap into this demand through significant investments.

Carnival currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). A couple of better-ranked stocks in the same sector are Vail Resorts Inc. MTN and HomeAway, Inc. AWAY, both carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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Will Google Test Project Loon in the U.S. Next Year?

Posted Fri Nov 27, 04:30 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

A new filing with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seems to indicate that Alphabet GOOGL owned Google plans to start testing Project Loon Internet balloons on a large scale across the U.S.

In the filing, Google has sought license to test experimental radios that apply wireless spectrum in the millimeter bandwidth in all 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico. Therefore, Google could start testing high-altitude balloons beginning Jan 1 for 24 months. The documents however don’t mention Project Loon by name.

Project Loon is developed by Google’s secretive X Labs to make the Internet available worldwide using balloons. Project Loon balloons encircle the earth at twice the height of commercial aircraft, thereby enabling mobile operators to provide wireless networks to underdeveloped and developing nations, and sparsely populated or remote areas, thereby eliminating the need to run fiber optic cable or construct cell towers.

Project Loon balloons have already been tested in New Zealand and Brazil. Also, in October, Google had announced that it is partnering with Indonesia's three largest telecom companies in 2016 to test the balloons in the world's fourth most densely inhabited country.

Google plans to apply balloon technology to make Internet available in remote areas of the world.  But its Internet access ambitions are not limited to balloons alone. It is also developing drones to deliver Internet access and plans to carry out tests in New Mexico and Oregon.

Providing Internet access will increase Google’s search user base and thereby drive revenues. It will also help it to keep competition at bay and maintain its leading position.

Google however faces competition as rival Facebook FB is also testing drones and satellites capable of delivering Internet access.

Google has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Some better-ranked stocks include NVIDIA Corporation NVDA and Texas Instruments Inc. TXN, both sporting a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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Will WPX Energy's Strategy to Boost Oil Production Work?

Posted Fri Nov 27, 04:20 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

On Nov 26, 2015, we issued an updated research report on WPX Energy Inc. WPX. This independent oil and gas company has been hit by the persistent softness in commodity prices.

WPX Energy reported mixed results in the third quarter of 2015, with its loss in the quarter wider than the Zacks Consensus Estimate and total revenues surpassing the mark. Despite matching production levels, total revenues were down 28.1% year over year.

Despite the current commodity price weakness, WPX Energy is gradually building up a strong portfolio of assets which will continue to boost its performance. The company has also taken a strategy to maximize returns and margins by scaling down its historically gas-weighted portfolio to make room for more oil production.

The company expects to invest in the range of $825 million to $925 million in 2015 to further strengthen its existing asset base. The completion of the RKI Exploration & Production, LLC acquisition in mid August ensured the company access to the reserve rich Permian Basin. The asset addition has increased WPX Energy’s total proved liquids reserves by 33% to 268 million barrels.

In addition, the company continues to monetize its natural gas operations and utilize the proceeds to lower debts and concentrate more on oil operations. Recently, in two separate transactions, the company sold assets worth $265 million. These divestures are part of WPX Energy’s target to divest assets worth $400 million to $500 million before the end of this year and another $400 million to $500 million in 2016.

In the wake of cheap oil, WPX Energy’s management has decided to rationalize its portfolio, improve its existing cost structure and focus more on core areas. These initiatives will help the company to improve margins. As a result, cash operating expenses per boe are expected to be $9.00 to $10.50, down from the previous guidance of $9.50 to $11.00 per boe.

WPX Energy currently has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Some better-ranked stocks in the oil and gas E&P space are Cobalt International Energy, Inc. CIE, Apache Corp. APA and Chesapeake Energy Corporation CHK. All three presently hold a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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Amgen Seeks FDA Approval for First Biosimilar of Humira

Posted Fri Nov 27, 04:10 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

Amgen Inc. AMGN announced the submission of a biologics license application (BLA) seeking FDA approval for ABP 501, a biosimilar version of AbbVie Inc.’s ABBV best-selling drug, Humira. The application is Amgen’s first BLA submitted under the 351(k) biosimilar pathway. The company believes that it is the first to file a biosimilar application for Humira.

We note that Humira, an anti-TNF-α monoclonal antibody, is approved in many countries for the treatment of a wide range of inflammatory diseases. Humira delivered worldwide sales of $10.3 billion in the first nine months of 2015 and was one of the top-selling products in the U.S. in 2014.

Amgen currently has nine biosimilar candidates in its portfolio representing huge commercial opportunity – annual revenues of more than $3 billion. The company plans to launch its first biosimilar in 2017 followed by four others through 2019, subject to approval.

However, Amgen itself is facing biosimilar competition in the U.S. Zarxio, the first FDA-approved biosimilar, was launched by Novartis AG’s NVS generic arm, Sandoz, in September. Zarxio is the biosimilar version of Amgen’s blockbuster drug, Neupogen. And it’s not just Neupogen. Amgen is also likely to face biosimilar competition for a couple of key drugs in its portfolio – Neulasta and Enbrel. Sandoz announced that regulatory applications for the biosimilar versions of both Neulasta and Enbrel are currently under FDA review.

According to sources, the market for biosimilars can grow to $20 billion in 2020. Not surprisingly, competition in this space is intensifying with pharmaceutical and biotech companies racing to develop biosimilars.

Amgen is a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) stock. A better-ranked stock in the health care sector is Baxalta Incorporated BXLT, carrying a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). The company is also exploring the world of biosimilars.

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Ball to Sell 11 Plants to Appease EU Antitrust Regulators

Posted Fri Nov 27, 04:00 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

As per sources, Ball Corporation BLL has offered to sell 11 European plants in order to clinch approval from EU antitrust regulators for its £4.43 billion ($6.69 billion) acquisition of Rexam Plc REXMY.

Nine of the plants to be divested make cans while the other two manufacture can ends. Four factories are located in Germany, three in the UK, one each in Spain, France, the Netherlands and Austria.

The Ball Corporation and Rexam union would create the world's largest consumer packaging supplier with command over 60% of the beverage can market in North America, 69% in Europe and 74% in Brazil. The combined company would employ a workforce of about 22,500 employees across five continents and generate revenues of about $15 billion. The merged company will be better positioned to serve its customer base through supply chain efficiency, manufacturing excellence and increased product innovation.

The acquisition will not only counter competition from other packaging rivals but also facilitate production of sustainable, innovative and low-cost packaging solutions. Moreover, it will reduce warehousing and transport costs.

However, EU antitrust regulators started an in-depth investigation to assess whether the proposed transaction will reduce competition in the beverage can and aluminum bottle manufacturing industry in the European Economic Area (EEA). It apprehends that the deal would push up prices for both companies and consumers.

In addition to the plants mentioned above, Ball has stated that it is ready to sell more than $1.58 billion worth of assets to dispel regulatory concerns. Simultaneously, it is in discussion with antitrust authorities in the U.S. regarding assets it may have to divest here.

Last week, Ball confirmed that the European Commission has entered into a period of market testing which has been extended to Jan 22, 2016, based upon commitments proposed by Rexam and Ball. These commitments have been recommended with a view of obtaining EU clearance for the deal.

Ball expects to receive the necessary regulatory clearance for the deal by the first half of 2016. Ball and Rexam intend to work on a package of remedies to put competition concerns to rest.

Meanwhile, Ball Corp. is focused on ramping up capital projects and expects to grow through investments, the emphasis being on continuous improvement in cash flow. Product launches and inorganic expansion will also drive growth. However, concerns regarding the successful integration of the acquired company as well as unfavorable foreign exchange fluctuations, elevated aluminum premiums and the uncertainty of government funding programs for the Aerospace segment remain as headwinds.

Broomfield, CO-based Ball Corporation is the largest manufacturer of beverage cans in North America. It also supplies aerospace as well as other technologies and services to the government and other customers.

Currently, Ball Corp. has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Some better-ranked stocks in the sector are Berry Plastics Group Inc. BERY and Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget SCA SVCBY, both carrying a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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Are Campbell Soup's (CPB) Efforts Drawing Enough Attention?

Posted Fri Nov 27, 03:50 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

Campbell Soup Company CPB, the manufacturer of branded convenience food products, remains focused on enhancing its bottom line, increasing return on investment through strategic frameworks, overseas expansion, and growth of healthy beverages and baked snacks.

Further, with a view to synchronize its organizational structure and key growth strategies, Campbell Soup realigned its reporting segments from five to three, effective first-quarter fiscal 2016. With this reorganization, the company aims to craft a meaningful scale, and establish clearly defined portfolio roles and growth targets, which will be linked to each segment’s function in the organization and opportunities in the marketplace.  

Additionally, the company has adopted a major cost savings initiative that comprises streamlining of organization, launch of Integrated Global Services and the initiation of zero-based budgeting in fiscal 2016. The entire initiative is likely to generate cost savings of $200–$250 million over a period of three years.

Moreover, in an attempt to enhance its brand portfolio and accelerate future growth, Campbell Soup has resorted to acquisitions and joint ventures. In this regard, the company acquired leading refrigerated salsa maker, Garden Fresh Gourmet in fiscal 2015. The acquisition, which makes Garden Fresh Gourmet part of Bolthouse Farms (acquired in fiscal 2014), is in line with the company’s aim to expand its packaged fresh and organic foods categories.

We are impressed with this Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company’s robust first-quarter fiscal 2016 results, wherein both top and bottom lines beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate.

The company’s adjusted earnings from continuing operations of $0.95 per share were way ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $0.76 and increased 22% from the prior-year quarter. Though net sales fell nearly 2% to $2,203 million from $2,255 million in the prior-year quarter, it surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2,201 million.

The company has raised its adjusted earnings per share guidance for fiscal 2016 to $2.75–$2.83, reflecting growth of 4% to 7% from $2.65 reported in fiscal 2015. Earlier, the company had projected earnings per share growth of 3–5%.

However, we remain skeptical about the company’s future performance due to its exposure to international markets. This exposure makes Campbell Soup prone to currency fluctuations. Though the company’s earnings and sales surpassed expectations in first-quarter fiscal 2016, the top line fell year over year mainly on account of adverse foreign currency translations.

Further, citing an increased impact of currency translations in fiscal 2016, Campbell Soup has lowered its sales guidance for the fiscal. The company now anticipates sales growth between negative 1% and flat against the previous forecast of 0–1% growth.

Stocks to Consider

Some better-ranked tocks in the same sector are Omega Protein Corporation OME, Boulder Brands, Inc. BDBD and Lancaster Colony Corporation LANC. Each of these stocks carries a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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ACE Ltd Well Poised on Strategic Initiative, Low Rates Nag

Posted Fri Nov 27, 03:40 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

On Nov 27, we issued an updated research report on ACE Limited ACE.

ACE Limited’s operating earnings per share in the third quarter were in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate. The company witnessed lower premiums earned and investment income on the one hand, and record underwriting income with improvement in combined ratio on the other.

With respect to the surprise trend, this Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) property and casualty insurer has outperformed expectations in three of the last four quarters, with an average beat of 3.52%.

ACE Limited boasts an impressive inorganic growth story. The buyout of Siam Commercial Samaggi Insurance PCL in Thailand, ItaúSeguros SA in Brazil, Fireman’s Fund in the U.S. and most recently The Chubb Corp. CB (expected to close in the first quarter of 2016) has not only diversified the product mix but has also widened the company’s geographical exposure. Put together, these would lead to considerable value creation in the future.

Apart from focusing on inorganic growth, ACE Limited has made investments in various strategic initiatives that should pave way for long-term growth.

Riding on its operational strength, the company has a strong capital position and thus engages in prudent capital deployment that in turn enhances shareholders’ value. The 3.1% hike in dividend this May was the twenty-second straight annual payout hike. Notably, the company has more than doubled its quarterly dividend since 2010. ACE Limited aims a dividend payout ratio of 30% in its operating earnings. The insurer also engages in share buybacks and as such bought back $2.5 billion worth shares during the first nine months of 2015.

However, escalating expenses that are eating away margins and a persistent low interest rate environment that is weighing on investment results are headwinds to the company’s growth.

Other Stocks to Consider

Investors interested in the property and casualty insurers may also look at Cincinnati Financial Corp CINF and RLI Corp. RLI, both sporting a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report >>

Aflac Maintains Its Niche Position in Japan, Risks Remain

Posted Fri Nov 27, 03:30 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

On Nov 27, 2015, we issued an updated research report on Aflac Inc. AFL.

Aflac is a leading provider of individual guaranteed-renewable health and accident insurance in Japan and the U.S.  About 75% of the company's profits come from Japan, where the company is one of the largest insurers.

In its Life Insurance segment, Aflac maintains a diversified business mix with no single product constituting more than 23% of sales. And since 73% of sales come with no long-term guarantees, the company is well protected from paying out undue liability.

In its Retirement Plan Business, the company is well positioned for the future given a steady growth in deposits at a CAGR of 9% from 2009–2014. Moreover, the company has aligned itself with faster growth markets such as Small and Mid Corporate 401 (k), Mid-Large Government 457 and Mid-Large Healthcare 403 (b).

Aflac also derives a high-quality income stream from its Annuities business. Earnings from this line of business have grown at a CAGR of 23% from 2009 to 2014, and the company continues to tilt VA sales toward products without guaranteed living benefits.

Aflac has maintained strong capital levels and this is evident from the $2 billion in capital generated from 2009–2014. Consistent capital generation has also enabled it to buy back shares and increase dividend payouts at regular intervals to boost shareholder’s wealth and confidence in the company.

However, the persistently weak yen/dollar exchange rate and a low interest rate environment, stiff competition, and a challenging economic and regulatory environment in Japan are some of the headwinds.

During the most recently reported quarter, the company’s operating earnings per share of $1.56 beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.48 and improved 3.3% year over year. Earnings also surpassed the company’s own guidance range of $1.40–$1.43.

Aflac presently carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). Some other stocks worth considering in this space are Amerisafe, Inc. AMSF, The Chubb Corp. CB and The Travelers Companies, Inc. TRV. Each of these stocks sports the same Zacks Rank as Aflac.

Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report >>

Will You Hold Comstock Resources (CRK) Amid Cheap Gas?

Posted Fri Nov 27, 03:20 pm ET

by Zacks Equity Research

We issued an updated research report on energy explorer, Comstock Resources Inc. CRK on Nov 26, 2015. Comstock Resources delivered better-than-expected third-quarter 2015 results. While the company’s Haynesville operations continue to impress, its sales and income have dropped drastically in recent quarters due to cheap commodity prices. This is mostly because the company derives its reserves/production from oil and natural gas.

The positives and negatives are reflected in Comstock Resources’ current Zacks Rank #3 (Hold), implying that the stock will perform in line with the broader U.S. equity market over the next one to three months.

Comstock Resources' strong acreage position in the prolific Haynesville/Bossier Shale play in the East Texas and North Louisiana region has attractive reserve and production growth prospects. The company continues to deliver strong results from the Haynesville program. Production has seen a substantial increase, while drilling costs have witnessed a decline, thereby resulting in improved margins.

It is to be noted that during the third quarter, Comstock Resources incurred a loss of $1.06 per share (excluding one-time items), narrower than the Zacks Consensus Estimate of a loss of $1.23.

Additionally, management has not been shy of divesting assets, in particular those that do not fit into the company’s long-term growth plan. Following the 2008 offshore GoM asset divestiture (through the Bois d’Arc sale), Comstock Resources has emerged as a pure-play onshore operator with a focus on low-risk oil and gas properties.

However, similar to other independent exploration and production companies, results of Comstock Resources are directly exposed to oil and gas prices. Continued weakness in commodity prices has significantly affected the company’s revenues, earnings and cash flows.

Stocks to Consider

Some better-ranked players in the energy sector are Energy Transfer Equity LP ETE, Murphy USA Inc. MUSA and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners LP BWP. Each of these stocks sport a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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