Stock Analysts’ Upgrades for March, 20th (ASBFY, CAKE, CCL, CERN, CLI, CME, ECIFY, ESPR, GIS, HBHC)

Stock Analysts’ upgrades for Monday, March 20th:

Associated British Foods plc (OTC:ASBFY) was upgraded by analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc from a neutral rating to a buy rating.

Cheesecake Factory (NASDAQ:CAKE) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Cheesecake Factory posted fourth-quarter 2016 earnings per share of $0.67, which was in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate. Meanwhile, the figure increased 24.1% year over year on higher revenues and a lower share count. Sales of $603.1 million surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $594.3 million by 1.5% and were up 14.5% on a year-over-year basis. Various initiatives to boost sales and traffic like menu innovation, roll-out of an improved server training program, launch of mobile payment app and increased focus on delivery service bode well. Meanwhile, the company’s aggressive expansion initiatives should drive growth. However, higher labor and pre-openings costs coupled with expenses related to sales initiatives are likely to continue to hurt margins. Soft consumer spending in the U.S. restaurant space also remains a major headwind for the company.”

Carnival Corp (NYSE:CCL) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Carnival shares have outpaced the Zacks classified Leisure & Recreation Services industry in the past year. Given an expected increase in cruise travel throughout 2017, addition of new ships to its fleet bodes well. Carnival believes that it is well positioned for continued earnings growth, given the current strength in its bookings along with pricing trends for the year. Its strategy of growing beyond familiar itineraries and capitalizing on fast growing markets also bodes well. New onboard product offerings and strategic initiatives are expected to drive onboard yield gains. Cost containment efforts like lower fuel consumption could also aid profits. Estimates have been stable ahead of Carnival’s fiscal first quarter 2017 earnings release. It has a positive record of earnings surprises in the last four quarters. Yet, adverse forex translations, macroeconomic issues in key operating regions and increasing fuel costs remain headwinds.”

Cerner (NASDAQ:CERN) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Cerner reported mixed fourth-quarter 2016 results, wherein adjusted earnings beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate while revenues missed the same. System sales witnessed a major deterioration on a year-over-year basis, owing to a decline in technology resale. Over the past one year, Cerner has outperformed the broader industry with respect to price. However, downward estimate revision indicates looming concerns. We believe that the company has growth opportunities in the revenue cycle management (RCM), Population Health and ambulatory markets based on its product strength and enviable track record. However, the HCIT market is highly competitive, which exerts considerable pressure on both pricing and margins. Moreover, a growing proportion of low-margin services and technology resale may affect margins. Meanwhile, stringent hospital budgets exert pressure on pricing.”

Mack Cali Realty Corp (NYSE:CLI) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Shares of Mack-Cali underperformed the Zacks categorized REIT and Equity Trust – Other industry over the past three months. The company has been making solid strides in its 20/15 strategic plan, which is aimed at transforming the company by focusing on waterfront and transit-based office holdings, and on luxury multi-family portfolio growth as well. But, as part of portfolio repositioning efforts, it has been aggressively disposing its assets. In fact, the company has closed $745 million of planned dispositions in 2016 and early 2017, and intends to dispose another $600 million for the remainder of 2017. While such measures are a strategic fit for the long term, the earnings-dilutive effects of huge asset sales cannot be bypassed. Also, rate hikes add to its woes.”

CME Group (NASDAQ:CME) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Shares of CME Group have outperformed the Zacks categorized Securities Exchanges industry, in the last one year. CME Group remains well positioned for growth on the back of its strong market position with diverse derivative product lines. Efforts to expand and cross sell its core exchange-traded business through new product initiatives and global reach also support growth. Reaffirming its commitment to boost shareholders’ value, CME Group announced its annual variable dividend in Dec 2016. However, mounting expenses remain a concern for CME Group. The company projects higher expense in 2017.Also, exposure to interest rate volatility, limited credit availability in the current unstable capital and credit markets, can hamper liquidity.”

EDF (OTCMKTS:ECIFY) was upgraded by analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc from a sell rating to a neutral rating.

Esperion Therapeutics (NDAQ:ESPR) was upgraded by analysts at Credit Suisse Group AG from an underperform rating to a neutral rating.

General Mills (NYSE:GIS) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “General Mills' consumer-focused innovation, marketing initiatives and robust restructuring savings are making up for the sluggish revenue growth. Sales and profits at the U.S. Retail segment, contributing 60% to sales, have been soft due to lower demand amid changing consumer food preferences. The company is on track to achieve its cost savings target for fiscal 2018 as it forges ahead with its margin expansion efforts. Though various initiatives helped improve the top line in segments like cereals and snacks in fiscal 2016, we believe a material improvement will take time. The company’s shares have also underperformed the Zacks categorized Food-Miscellaneous/Diversified industry year-to-date.”

Hancock Holding Company (NASDAQ:HBHC) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $53.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Hancock’s shares outpaced the Zacks categorized Southeast Bank industry in the last six months. The bank's strategic initiatives on the back of several investments are expected to accelerate revenue generation going forward. Further, the company’s deal to acquire loans and branches of First NBC Bank will likely add nearly $25 million of incremental annual earnings, once completed. However, stressed margins despite optimistic rate scenario remain a major concern for the company.”

Welltower (NYSE:HCN) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Welltower came up with normalized funds from operations (FFO) per share of $1.10 for fourth-quarter 2016, beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.08. Results had a positive impact due to decent same store net operating income (NOI) growth. In Jan 2017, the company announced the extension of its existing CEO’s tenure and also shared some important changes in its organizational structure. These are aimed at improving the company’s portfolio growth. However, rate hike remains a concern because of its high exposure to long-term leased assets. In fact, although the shares of Welltower outperformed the Zacks-categorized REIT – Equity Trust – Other industry over the past three months, its 2017 FFO estimate declined over the past 7 days. Further, intense competition, earnings-dilutive effects of disposition and considerable upfront costs associated with acquisitions and developments are concerns before the company.”

Infineon Technologies AG (OTCMKTS:IFNNY) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $21.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Infineon has underperformed the Zacks categorized  Electronics Semiconductors industry over the last one-year. However, we believe that the company has significant growth opportunities in the automotive market due to growing hybrid and fully electric vehicles globally, including China. Moreover, the company’s focus on developing energy-efficient solutions will be a key catalyst going ahead. These will help the stock price rebound going forward. However, the cancelled Wolfspeed deal is a big setback for the company. Moreover, slowdown in smartphone sales can prove to be a major drag going forward. Additionally, the cyclical nature of the semiconductor industry, and price erosion is likely to be major headwinds going ahead.”

Illumina (NDAQ:ILMN) was upgraded by analysts at Leerink Swann from a mkt perform rating to an outperform rating.

Kaiser Aluminum Corp. (NASDAQ:KALU) was upgraded by analysts at Sidoti from a neutral rating to a buy rating. Sidoti currently has $109.00 target price on the stock.

Korea Electric Power (NYSE:KEP) was upgraded by analysts at Citigroup Inc from a neutral rating to a buy rating.

Nexgen Energy (CVE:NXE) was upgraded by analysts at BMO Capital Markets from a market perform rating to an outperform rating.

ONEX (TSE:ONEX) was upgraded by analysts at Scotiabank from a sector perform rating to an outperform rating. They currently have C$105.00 price target on the stock, up from their previous price target of C$96.00.

Rayonier (NYSE:RYN) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Rayonier is expanding its presence through timberlands acquisitions in the U.S. South coastal Atlantic markets. Particularly, the company has entered into three transactions with separate sellers for the purchase of around 95,100 acres of industrial timberlands situated in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. In February, the company reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter 2016 results. Its geographic diversity, better pricing power due to favorable demand-supply dynamics and its constant efforts to monetize higher and better use timberlands bode well. Further, disciplined acquisitions and recent developments in biogenetics & cloning, which are helping in fast growth of trees, are expected to drive its top line. Yet, high volatility in timber price and wood products as well as foreign exchange fluctuations remain concerns.”

SEI Investments Company (NASDAQ:SEIC) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “SEI Investments shares outperformed the Zacks categorized Investment management industry over the last six months. The company is well positioned for organic growth, given its innovative and diverse global investment products and services. Further, robust asset growth will support profitability, going forward. However, elevated expense levels are expected to continue in the quarters ahead, which will likely hurt the bottom line growth. Also, increased reliance on fee-based revenues and the adverse impact of various regulatory restrictions remain primary near-term concerns.”

Spirent Communications Plc (OTC:SPMYY) was upgraded by analysts at Numis Securities Ltd from a hold rating to a buy rating.

3SBio (NDAQ:SSRX) was upgraded by analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc from a neutral rating to a buy rating.

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