CWS Market Review – August 31, 2012

“The investor’s chief problem—and even his worst enemy—is likely to be himself.” – Benjamin Graham

Even though the stock market is still in its late-summer doldrums, our Buy List stocks made some very impressive headlines this week. First, Hudson City ($HCBK) jumped 15% in one day after it announced a $3.7 billion merger agreement with M&T Bank ($MTB). Then JoS. A. Bank Clothiers ($JOSB) soared 14% thanks to a very strong earnings report. Looking at the numbers, our Buy List has had a very good August. In the last four weeks, the Buy List gained 5.9%, which is more than double the gains of the S&P 500.

As Churchill said on V-E Day, “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing.” While this month was great for our Buy List, let’s not get overconfident. This is a tough market, and there are many stocks, such as ($AMZN), that are extremely dangerous to own. The bond market looks shaky as well. As always, patience and discipline are our keys to success.

In this week’s CWS Market Review, I’ll bring you up to speed on the latest developments. Plus, I’ll tell you the best way to position yourself in the weeks ahead. We also had a pleasant 12.1% dividend increase from Harris Corp. ($HRS). This quiet little stock just had a remarkable run, rallying on 18 out of 21 days—and it’s still going for less than 10 times earnings. Now let’s take a closer look at the news from Hudson City and Joey Bank.

Hudson City Agrees to Merge with M&T

At the start of the week, Hudson City Bancorp said it had agreed to merge with M&T Bank ($MTB) in a deal worth $3.7 billion. Shares of HCBK jumped 15.7% on Monday.

I have to confess some embarrassment, since I had actually been down on HCBK and recently lowered the stock to a “hold.” The board members at M&T apparently aren’t subscribers to CWS Market Review. The merger between MTB and HCBK is interesting for several reasons. One is that this is the largest bank merger since Dodd-Frank came into effect. I think banks have been understandably reluctant to do any large deals since the financial crisis. Regulators certainly will be paying extra-close attention to any merger.

The merger agreement allows shareholders of Hudson City to take cash or 0.08403 shares of MTB for each share of HCBK they own. Given where MTB closed last Friday, that values HCBK at $7.22 per share. Here’s another interesting twist. The acquisitor in any large deal normally sees its stock drop. But this time, shares of MTB rallied 4.6% on Monday. That really caught Wall Street’s attention. Plus, when MTB rises, it values HCBK even more. M&T closed the day on Thursday at $87 per share, which translates to $7.31 for HCBK (note that HCBK is slightly discounted relative to the merger ratio). If MTB can get to $95, which is a very fair valuation (12.4 times next year’s earnings estimate), then that would value HCBK just shy of $8. I’m not saying it will happen, but it’s a very plausible scenario.

The merger agreement calls for the total payment from MTB to be 60% in stock and 40% in cash, so individual shareholders may not get the exact allocation they want. It all depends on what the balance of HCBK shareholders say (here’s a transcript of the conference call).

My recommendation for HCBK holders is to take shares of MTB. That’s what we’re going to do on the Buy List. M&T is a good bank, and it pays a decent dividend. M&T hasn’t had a losing quarter in 36 years. They were also one of the very few large banks to maintain their dividend through the financial crisis.

Bear in mind that we’re not in any hurry to exchange our shares. According to the conference call, the banks are looking to wrap up the deal by the second quarter of next year. That’s between seven and ten months away. I should remind you that any deal, no matter how solid it looks, does have a chance of falling apart. It’s certainly not likely, but the odds aren’t zero either. On the conference call, management said they hope to maintain Hudson’s dividend, but they need to hear from the regulators. For now, I rate Hudson City a good buy any time the shares are below $7.50.

Joey Bank Soars on Strong Earnings

On Wednesday, JoS. A. Bank Clothiers stunned everybody, including me, by reporting very strong earnings. The stock vaulted 14% that day, which came on the heels of a 3.5% rally on Tuesday. If you recall from last week’s CWS Market Review, I was rather skeptical of this earnings report.

For JOSB’s fiscal second quarter, they earned 83 cents per share, which was 10 cents more than Wall Street’s consensus. At one point on Wednesday, JOSB was up close to 19%. If you recall, the last earnings report was a dud. While the recent rally is impressive, JOSB is really taking back a lot of the ground it lost during the spring. It appears that short-sellers were ganging up on JOSB, and once the strong earnings came out, they got routed. The shorts then had to cover their positions and that drove the stock even higher, which in turn caused more shorts to scramble for the exits. That’s not a fun game to play.

Looking at the numbers in the earnings report, JOSB did quite well. Total sales rose by 12.9% to $260.3 million. That was almost $10 million more than Wall Street had been expecting. Sales at JOSB’s direct marketing segment, which includes internet sales, rose over 39%. The important metric in retailing, same-store sales, saw an impressive rise of 6.1%.

I was pleased to hear that JoS. A. Bank has very ambitious plans for the future. The company hopes to open 45 to 50 stores this fiscal year and next year as well. I’m going to raise my buy price on JOSB to $50. I also want to warn you to expect a bit of volatility from this stock. If that unnerves you, it may be best to stay away.

Harris Corp. Is a Buy up to $50

One of the biggest surprises this year has been the performance of Harris Corp. ($HRS). The company, which makes communication equipment, was a new addition to this year’s Buy List, but I don’t think I could have imagined that it would be our best-performing stock so far this year. Through Thursday’s trading, Harris is up 30.7% since the start of the year for us.

On Wednesday, Harris announced that it’s raising its quarterly dividend by 12.1%. This is their second dividend increase this year. Six months ago, Harris raised its dividend from 28 cents to 33 cents per share. Now it’s rising to 37 cents per share. That makes the current yield 3.1%, which is more than a 30-year Treasury.

Some Buy-List Bargains

As I said last week, I’m expecting a minor pullback over the next few weeks. Nothing big, but we may shed a few points here and there. In fact, the S&P 500 closed just below 1,400 on Thursday. There are good buys out there. I want to highlight a few stocks on our Buy List that look especially good right now.

Oracle’s ($ORCL) earnings, for example, are only a few weeks away. I’m expecting more good news. Ford ($F) and Moog ($MOG-A) are pretty cheap here. If volatility doesn’t bother you, then JPMorgan Chase ($JPM) is a strong buy.

That’s all for now. The stock market will be closed on Monday for Labor Day. Next week, we’ll get some important economic reports, such as the ISM and productivity reports, and the big jobs report comes next Friday. Be sure to keep checking the blog for daily updates. I’ll have more market analysis for you in the next issue of CWS Market Review!

– Eddy

Posted by on August 31st, 2012 at 8:02 am

The information in this blog post represents my own opinions and does not contain a recommendation for any particular security or investment. I or my affiliates may hold positions or other interests in securities mentioned in the Blog, please see my Disclaimer page for my full disclaimer.

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