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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Progressive, Sonoco Products, Bemis, Graphic Packaging Holding and AptarGroup

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For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL – July 1, 2013 – announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Progressive Corp. (PGR - Free Report) -Free Report), Sonoco Products Co. (SON - Free Report) -Free Report), Bemis Company, Inc (BMS - Free Report) -Free Report), Graphic Packaging Holding Company (GPK - Free Report) -Free Report) and AptarGroup, Inc. (ATR - Free Report) -Free Report).

Today, Zacks is promoting its ''Buy'' stock recommendations. Get #1Stock of the Day pick for free.

Here are highlights from Friday’s Analyst Blog:

Progressive Upgraded to Buy

Zacks Investment Research upgraded Progressive Corp. (PGR - Free Report) -Free Report) to a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

Why the Upgrade?

Progressive's earnings estimates have been rising on the back of the company's consistent strong performance.

The company’s first-quarter 2013 earnings were ahead of both the Zacks Consensus Estimate and the year-ago figure. Progressive has been reporting year-over-year improvement over the last two months as well.

The long-term expected earnings growth rate for this stock is 8.5%.    

In April and May, the company generated a total of 42 cents in earnings, with premiums increasing year over year for both months.

Progressive’s operating earnings and premiums’ growth as well as debt-to-total capital ratio in the last two months of this year reflect an overall constant improvement. Current policies in force also remained healthy. Progressive remains focused on maintaining a healthy policy life expectancy, which is a significant measure to retain customers.

We expect Progressive to surpass expectations when it reports its second-quarter results on Jul 11.  Our proven model shows that the property & casualty insurer is likely to beat earnings because it has a right combination of a positive Earnings ESP (Read: Zacks Earnings ESP: A Better Method) and a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). ESP or Expected Surprise Prediction, which represents the difference between the Most Accurate Estimate and the Zacks Consensus Estimate, is +5.1%.

Additionally, for the second quarter the Zacks Consensus Estimate is pegged at 39 cents, up 96% year over year.

The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2013 increased 4.7% to $1.56 per share as most of the estimates were revised higher over the last 30 days. For 2014, more than half of the estimates were revised higher over the same period, lifting the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 3.1% to $1.65 per share.

More Price Hikes from Sonoco

Consumer packaging company Sonoco Products Co. (SON - Free Report) -Free Report) declared that it will increase the price of all paperboard tubes and cores by 5%. The price hike will be effective from July 15, 2013 relating to the shipments to the US and Canada.

Paperboard tubes and cores are the elements of Sonoco’s Paper and Industrial Converted Products segment. The company hiked the price in order to recover the recently announced paperboard price increase.

Last week, Sonoco announced a $40 per ton price hike on all grades of uncoated recycled paperboard (URB) to combat increasing recovered paper and other raw material costs.

Sonoco manufactures paperboard, primarily from recycled materials for both internal use and open market sale. The majority of the company’s revenues comes from consumer packaging and Paper and Industrial Converted Products segment.

Sonoco Products, which is a global manufacturer of consumer and industrial packaging products along with Bemis Company, Inc (BMS - Free Report) -Free Report), Graphic Packaging Holding Company (GPK - Free Report) -Free Report) and AptarGroup, Inc. (ATR - Free Report) -Free Report), posted first-quarter 2013 adjusted earnings of 50 cents per share, declined 4% year over year, while net sales dipped 3% to $1.179 billion.

The year-over-year decline in sales was attributable to lower volume and selling prices in Consumer Packaging and Paper and Industrial Converted Products segments, partially offset by volume improvement and sales price gains in the Display and Packaging and Protective Solutions segments.

Sonoco expects to increase sales to $5.5 billion to $6 billion over the next three to four years. However, uncertainty among its customers, given the slow recovery in the U.S. and ongoing European weakness, remains a headwind for the company.

South Carolina-based Sonoco is a global provider of a variety of consumer packaging, industrial products, protective packaging and packaging supply chain services. Sonoco is also the largest producer of paper-based tubes and cores in North America.

Sonoco Products currently retains a short-term Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Today, Zacks is promoting its ''Buy'' stock recommendations. Get #1Stock of the Day pick for free.

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