Before the opening bell this morning, L-3 Communications Holdings, Inc. (LLL - 70.12) took its turn in the corporate earnings spotlight. LLL said its fourth-quarter profit rose 2.6% to $274 million, or $2.72 per share, from $267 million, or $2.37 per share, in the same period last year. On an adjusted basis, earnings increased to $2.54 from $2.37 per share. Net sales decreased 5.6% to $4.02 billion. The New York City-based company's results were mixed, as Wall Street predicted adjusted earnings of $2.41 per share on $4.18 billion in sales. For fiscal 2012, LLL reiterated its forecast for a profit of $8.35 to $8.55 per share on net sales of $14.4 billion to $14.6 billion. Analysts are expecting a profit of $8.43 per share on $14.41 billion in revenue.
Thanks to today's well-received report, LLL is up fractionally, adding to its 4.4% climb for 2012. Earlier in the session, the stock broke through the round-number $70 level, and is now within reach of notching its first monthly close above this mark since July 2011.
Meanwhile, short interest for LLL dropped by 33.8% over the past two reporting periods. These bearish bets account for just 3.2% of the security's float, representing a rather meager supply of sideline cash. In other words, it looks like relatively few traders are betting on the stock to decline.
However, there seems to be lingering skepticism toward LLL among options players. During the past two weeks, speculators on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) have bought to open 1.39 puts for every call. This ratio is in the 76th percentile of its annual range, signaling that traders on these exchanges have seldom made bearish bets over bullish at a faster pace during the past year.
In fact, the brokerage bunch appears to be skeptical of LLL as well. Zacks is reporting that 13 out of 14 analysts have pegged the equity with a "hold" or worse rating. Meanwhile, Thomson Reuters places the average 12-month price target at $71.36, which represents a slight premium to today's intraday high of $70.49. Should the shares continue to exceed expectations, this bearish alignment could translate into a fresh round of upgrades and/or price-target hikes.
If LLL reclaims a perch atop round-number support, a reversal of bearish sentiment among analysts or options traders could give the defense contractor a boost in the near term.
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