ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE:CAG)
CAG is scheduled to report fiscal first-quarter earnings before the open on Thursday, and analysts are calling for per-share earnings of 40 cents, or four pennies shy of the firm's year-ago result. Looking back more broadly, the food concern has bested bottom-line estimates in six of the previous eight quarters, resulting in an average week-after gain of 2.6%.
An earnings-related boost would definitely be welcomed by shareholders, who have watched CAG underperform the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX) by more than 13 percentage points through the past 40 sessions. However, last Tuesday, the company predicted an earnings miss on weaker-than-expected consumer food sales, and also downwardly revised its full-year guidance, resulting in a 6% gap lower.
Still, optimism is running high on the stock among the experts. Seven covering brokerage firms give CAG a "buy" or better endorsement -- including six "strong buys" -- compared to just four "holds" and not a single "sell" or worse recommendation. Furthermore, the shares' average 12-month price target sits at $38.75, which represents a premium of more than 20% to their current perch at $31.88. If the equity's recent struggles continue, a round of downgrades and/or price-target reductions could pressure the shares to greater depths.
Clean Harbors Inc (NYSE:CLH)
This Thursday is CLH's 2013 Investor Day, when the environmental services firm will provide insight into its business strategy and growth prospects. On the charts, the company has put on a solid (though unspectacular) performance through the past year, gaining 9.5% to $57.95. More recently, things have been better; in particular, the shares could be seen outperforming the SPX by 8.2 percentage points during the previous month.
Nevertheless, bearish betting has picked up on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). During the past 10 sessions, CLH has racked up a put/call volume ratio of 25.0, meanings traders have bought to open 25 puts for every call during the most recent two-week time period. Statistically, this rate of put buying (relative to call buying) has been surpassed less than 20% of the time in the last 12 months. Given the stock's recent jaunt higher, it is possible that some of these put buyers -- especially those focused on out-of-the-money bets -- may be shareholders looking to hedge their bets. Should the option bears begin to exit their positions in the face of a continued climb, CLH could be in store for a contrarian lift.
Nike Inc (NYSE:NKE)
NKE is holding its annual shareholder meeting this Thursday, one week ahead of its fiscal first-quarter earnings release on Sept. 26. In addition, effective at the end of Friday's session, the sportswear brand will become one of the Dow's three new components, along with Goldman Sachs Group Inc (NYSE:GS) and Visa Inc (NYSE:V). They are replacing Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA), Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ), and Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC).
Technically, NKE shares have been stout, gaining nearly 32% year-to-date, and currently hovering at $67.91 -- just a hop, skip, and jump away from their all-time high of $68.90, tagged last week. From a sentiment perspective, however, doubt levels are high. Short interest jumped over 25% during the past two reporting periods. What's more, 12 of the 20 analysts covering the stock rate it a tepid "hold," compared to eight "strong buys," and the consensus 12-month price target stands at a discount to current levels. In other words, there's plenty of room for a potential series of upgrades and/or price-target hikes -- or, for that matter, a short-squeeze scenario -- to spark an extended rally.
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