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In the final leg of 2020, does the market have what it takes to reach a record high? If you ask J.P. Morgan, the answer is yes.
According to strategist Dubravko Lakos-Bujas, the S&P 500’s earnings are bouncing back more quickly than expected thanks to the Federal Reserve’s accommodative monetary policy, global reopenings and long-term tech plays. He argues this earnings trend could power the index’s rally to a record 3,600, reflecting a 6% gain from current levels.
Tech is the key here. Although the space has had a rough going recently, the strategist sees the latest pullback as “healthy," noting that tech names are still relatively insulated from COVID’s economic impact. Tech profits could also potentially help offset earnings weakness in the broader market.
“As for COVID-19 sensitive companies, Q2 likely marked the bottom with earnings to see a sustained recovery as the economy rebounds, and consumer and corporate behavior gradually normalize,” Lakos-Bujas commented. What’s more, the firm expects improving demand and falling interest costs to drive a rebound in S&P 500 companies’ margins, with a full recovery potentially coming by the second half of 2021.
Bearing this in mind, we wanted to take a closer look at three stocks that have earned J.P. Morgan’s stamp of approval. Accompanying a bullish rating, the firm’s analysts believe each could climb at least 60% higher in the year ahead. Running the tickers through TipRanks’ database, we got all the details and learned what makes them such compelling plays.
PDC Energy (PDCE)
First up we have PDC Energy, which is the second largest oil and gas producer in the DJ Basin and has significant scale (182,000 net acres). Based on its standing in the space, J.P. Morgan is pounding the table on this name.
Firm analyst Arun Jayaram sees the company as one of the “positioned operators among the small to mid-cap E&Ps given that it pairs a strong free cash flow profile and relatively clean balance sheet with a cheap multiple.” Out of all the names in the firm’s E&P coverage universe, PDCE trades at the lowest 2021 EBITDA multiple and has the highest free cash flow yield.
Additionally, even though Colorado politics presents challenges given that it’s a purple state, or a swing state, the analyst believes these headwinds can be overcome.
“In our view, the stock appears to be discounting a significant haircut to its undrilled inventory from regulatory headwinds in Colorado consistent with the implementation of ‘hard’ 2,000 ft. setback rules. While we don’t expect potentially restrictive political measures in Colorado to go away, we see the current ~2.6x discount as too punitive, with just a half turn re-rate providing ~40% upside to shares,” Jayaram commented.
The analyst argues that the stock presents investors with a “rare opportunity” to snap up a name at a discount to PDP value. Shares are currently changing hands for only 73% of Jayaram’s PDP estimates, based on recent strip pricing.
“We view this as a compelling risk-reward given the growing likelihood the State could enforce ‘soft’ 2,000 ft. setbacks that would still provide PDCE with the ability to tap the lion’s share of its undrilled DJ Basin inventory, albeit with additional administrative hurdles in the permit process that could modestly raise the cost of doing business,” the analyst stated.
It should be noted that PDCE has approximately 400 DUCs or permitted wells in the DJ Basin, which could serve to buffer the operational risk for several years and provide leeway for the company to successfully navigate the changes to the permitting process, in Jayaram’s opinion.
With the “significant dislocation from the value of the underlying asset base,” Jayaram gives PDCE a place on J.P. Morgan's U.S. Equity Analyst Focus List as a value pick.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Jayaram sides with the bulls. To this end, he puts an Overweight rating and $23 price target on the stock. Investors could be pocketing a gain of 93%, should this target be met in the twelve months ahead. (To watch Jayaram’s track record, click here)
Are other analysts in agreement? They are. Only Buy ratings, 11, in fact, have been issued in the last three months. Therefore, the verdict is unanimous: PDCE is a Strong Buy. Given the $21.50 average price target, shares could jump 80% in the next year. (See PDCE stock analysis on TipRanks)
Moving on to another player in the energy game, GeoPark is a leading independent oil and gas company with oil and gas assets in Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Argentina. With a solid asset base in Colombia, which accounts for 81% of its production, J.P. Morgan sees big things in store for this oil play.
Writing for the firm, analyst Ricardo Rezende opined: “We recommend GPRK for investors looking for exposure to oil prices... we think the stock reflects long-term oil prices at $50/barrel (bbl), in line with the current the forward curve.”
In addition, the company’s portfolio management approach to its assets (operations must be self-funding and prove their value on a standalone basis) and the fact that it recently grouped its operations into two segments, could “help the company rein in costs – an additional positive, especially in a low oil price environment,” according to Rezende.
That being said, Rezende argues “most of GeoPark’s current – and future – value lies in its Colombian operations.” Llanos-34, its “best asset”, is located in the country. This asset saw an average production of 26kboed in Q2 2020, with it also holding roughly 71% of net proved reserves.
GPRK has made a significant effort to expand its exposure to the areas around Llanos 34, with its holdings in the area now totaling over 1.4 million acres. As part of these efforts, it acquired five exploration blocks in partnership with Hocol (Ecopetrol), agreed with Parex to assume a 50% working interest in the Llanos 94 block and acquired Amerisur, an independent E&P whose most relevant block (CPO-5) is in the vicinity of Llanos 34.
The latter acquisition is the key to the company’s success, in Rezende’s opinion, as it “opened a new exploration region for GeoPark: Putumayo, a region closer to the border with Ecuador.”
Expounding on this, the analyst stated, “Llanos 34 and its vicinities, in our view, are much more important drivers to GeoPark’s investment case than any other blocks the company has a stake in. Also, a successful exploration campaign in areas that GeoPark recently incorporated and the ramp-up on CPO-5 are the other relevant triggers in the area. We see production in Colombia reaching 39.8 kbpd in 2023, compared to 28.5kbpd in 2018.”
All of this prompted Rezende to rate GPRK an Overweight (i.e. Buy) along with a $16 price target. This target conveys his confidence in GPRK’s ability to soar 119% in the next year. (To watch Rezende’s track record, click here)
Looking at the consensus breakdown, 2 Buys and no Holds or Sells have been published in the last three months. Therefore, GPRK gets a Moderate Buy consensus rating. Based on the $13.60 average price target, shares could surge 85% in the next year. (See GeoPark stock analysis on TipRanks)
iTeos Therapeutics (ITOS)
Making our way to the healthcare sector, iTeos Therapeutics is focused on the discovery and development of a new generation of highly differentiated immuno-oncology therapeutics. With its development pipeline boasting significant potential, J.P. Morgan thinks that now is the time to get in on the action.
Its two lead candidates, EOS-850 (an A2AR antagonist) and EOS-448 (an anti-TIGIT antibody), are targeting key mechanisms of cancer immunosuppression, and are in development alone as well as with other therapeutic combinations.
The A2A receptor, a key signaling component within the immunosuppressive ATP-adenosine pathway, has been shown to modulate immune responses in pathological conditions. As for the T-cell immunoreceptors with immunoglobulin (Ig) and ITIM domains (TIGIT) program, it is another receptor that certain cancer types use to sustain tumor growth.
Weighing in for J.P. Morgan, 5-star analyst Anupam Rama wrote: “We acknowledge that development in the adenosine and TIGIT classes are competitive with the likes of multiple large pharma/biotechs and SMID biotechs; that said, we still see iTeos as having multiple value-creating levers with both EOS-850 and EOS-448.”
These include the potential for the molecules to differentiate themselves over time within a particular target class. EOS-850 has demonstrated a differentiated PK/PD profile pre-clinically, with early responses looking encouraging. Based on this solid data, a Phase 1/2 trial was initiated for EOS-850 in patients with advanced solid tumors, both as monotherapy and in combination with standard of care therapies. Dose escalation in the combination arms of the study is expected to begin in Q3 2020, and data from the dose expansion monotherapy cohort is expected in 1H21. Rama sees these readouts as capable of driving major upside.
It should also be noted that a new formulation of EOS-850 with improved dissolution properties and good absorption under high pH conditions is expected to be available for a clinical bridging study in Q1 2021, with completion potentially coming in Q2 2021. Assuming a net initial price of $12,000 per cycle of therapy, Rama estimates peak global sales of $2-2.5 billion by 2039.
Additionally, EOS-448 has shown high binding affinity and that it actively engages FcyR, based on preclinical data. A Phase 1/2a study is now underway for EOS-448 in patients with advanced solid tumors, and preliminary results from the escalation phase are slated for release in 1H21, another potential catalyst, according to Rama. For this therapy, Rama believes peak sales could land at $3 billion.
“From current levels, execution on one product across a few indications or a combination of both products in more select go-forward indications has the potential to create meaningful value (via probability of success increase and/or peak revenue increases),” Rama said.
What’s more, both therapies are wholly owned by ITOS, which leaves “the potential for future strategic interest in both assets pending evolution of data,” in Rama’s opinion. On top of this, both assets have shown signals of activity in interesting but less-competitive indications.
Everything that ITOS has going for it convinced Rama to keep an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating on the stock. Along with the call, he attaches a $40 price target, suggesting 61% upside potential. (To watch Rama’s track record, click here)
Turning now to the rest of the Street, other analysts echo Rama’s sentiment. 4 Buys and no Holds or Sells add up to a Strong Buy consensus rating. At $45, the average price target is more aggressive than Rama’s and implies 81% upside potential. (See ITOS stock analysis on TipRanks)
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.