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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Apple, Dell and Patterson-UTI Energy

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For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL – December 15, 2011 – 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 Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ - Free Report) , Cisco Systems Inc. ( (CSCO - Free Report) , Apple Inc. ( (AAPL - Free Report) , Dell Inc. ( and Patterson-UTI Energy Inc. (PTEN - Free Report) .

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Here are highlights from Wednesday’s Analyst Blog:

H-P Wins 7-Year Agro Deal Renewal

Hewlett-Packard Co.’s (HPQ - Free Report) Swiss-arm has reportedly inked a seven-year information technology (IT) infrastructure service agreement with a globally acknowledged Swiss agribusiness company Syngenta Crop Protection AG. The contract price was kept confidential.

Formed in 2000, Syngenta AG is a vendor of seeds and pesticides across the world, also involved in biotechnology and genomic research.

Leveraging H-P’s cloud computing solutions and data center support, Syngenta will shift some IT infrastructure to its private cloud. A private cloud is virtual technological infrastructure operated solely for a single organization, whether managed internally or by a third-party and hosted internally or externally. The cloud infrastructure will be Syngenta’s platform for research and development activities. This will allow the company to deliver advanced agro products as and when required, ultimately helping growers to maximize their production.

Moreover, H-P’s will extend its security and workplace services to Syngenta to secure its cloud environment as well as manage digital work-stations. Syngenta shares a long-term business relation with H-P and this deal renewal indicates the agro firm’s unrelenting trust in the tech giant’s services.

H-P has cut some more service deals in the past few months. Mortgage solutions provider Loan Value Group LLC selected H-P’s services for five years. The Australian government selected H-P’s technology service to design, build and maintain a portion of the information, communication and technology systems of the digital hospital.

Despite continuous deal wins, we remain cautious about the company’s growth, particularly as competition from other big technology players, such as Cisco Systems Inc. ( (CSCO - Free Report) , Apple Inc. ( (AAPL - Free Report) , Acer and Dell Inc. ( heats up. Moreover, the expected decline in PC shipments stemming from the hard disk drive supply cut due to the Thailand flood is raising investor confusion over the stock.

H-P now has a short-term Hold recommendation (Zacks #3 Rank).

Patterson-UTI Downgraded to Neutral

We have downgraded onshore contract driller Patterson-UTI Energy Inc. (PTEN - Free Report) to Neutral from Outperform; the primary factor being increased labor costs for contract drilling that may lead to slower margin growth going forward.

Patterson-UTI has approximately 350 land-based rigs that operate mainly in the oil and natural gas producing regions of North America. The company operates primarily in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and western Canada.

Additionally, Patterson-UTI is engaged in the exploration and production business and provides pressure pumping services (an umbrella term used to describe a number of vital services performed on new and existing wells).

While we continue to like the company for its growing premium land rig fleet, stellar financial health (free cash flow positive and a debt-free balance sheet) and exposure to the boom in pressure pumping services, we don't see any obvious catalyst in National Oilwell’s business to significantly push the stock price higher.

We remain particularly worried about the labor inflation associated with Patterson-UTI’s conventional contract drilling rig fleet, which may put a brake on the segment’s margin expansion. To make matters worse, the company seems unable to make up for this with higher pricing in pressure pumping.

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