Barclays Downgrades Weigh on 2 Grocery Stocks

Analysts cut their ratings on shares of MDCA, UNFI, and SPTN today

by Patrick Martin

Published on Mar 12, 2019 at 2:28 PM

The Dow is sharply lower today, taking a hit as analysts pile on Boeing (BA) amid the 737 MAX 8 controversy. Among stocks making notable moves lower today are marketing communications specialist MDC Partners Inc (NASDAQ:MDCA), and grocery distributors United Natural Foods Inc (NYSE:UNFI), and SpartanNash Co (NASDAQ:SPTN). Here's a quick look at what's got the shares of MDCA, UNFI, and SPTN struggling today.

BMO Halves Price Target on MDCA

One of the worst stocks on the Nasdaq today is MDC Partners, down 15.2% to trade at $2.08, earlier tapping a 10-year low of $2.06. Pressuring the shares is a downgrade to "market perform" at BMO, which also halved its price target to $2.50 from $5. The analysts cited MDCA's growing list of lost accounts, and weakened "confidence in near-term organic growth estimates." This is pacing to be MDCA's worst day since May 2018, and extends its year-over-year losses to 73%. 

Despite the stock's technical struggles -- or perhaps because the penny stock has little downside room -- short sellers have been hesitant to come aboard. Short interest has more than halved since the Dec. 30 reporting period, and the 530,000 shares sold short represent a slim 1% of the equity's total available float.

UNFI Rally Derailed by Downgrade

Barclays weighed in on grocery distributors today, downgrading United Natural Foods to "underweight" from "equal weight," while trimming its price target to $10 from $14. The analyst in coverage foresees "intensifying competition in the grocery distribution space, which could pressure margins/revenue." At last check, UNFI is down 10.1% to trade at $13.21, set to breach its 50-day moving average. The stock is still up more than 25% year-to-date, though recent upside stalled in the face of its 80-day trendline.

The downgrade today is just more of the same for the health foods distributor. Of the 15 brokerages covering UNFI, only one rates it a "buy," and the consensus 12-month price target of $13.91 is lower than last night's closing perch of $14.69.

Barclays Downgrade Puts SPTN Near New Lows

Turning to SpartanNash, the stock is down 6.4% to trade at $16.75, suffering the same downgrade as United Foods, and a price-target cut to $15 from $18. The move has SPTN breaching its year-to-date breakeven level, and dangerously close to its Dec. 27 five-year low of $16.08. Since a mid-February post-earnings bear gap, the shares have faced stiff pressure from their descending 10-day moving average.

Short selling has ramped up on SPTN, increasing by 21% in the most recent reporting period. However, this still represents a meager 1.9% of the stock's total available float, and only 1.7 times the equity's average daily trading volume. 

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