Every day, Wall Street analysts upgrade some stocks, downgrade others, and "initiate coverage" on a few more. But do these analysts even know what they're talking about? Today, we're taking one high-profile Wall Street pick and putting it under the microscope...
The merger of Harris and L3 Technologies that was announced nine months ago has finally closed (it closed on June 29, actually), and there's a new defense giant in town: L3Harris (NYSE: LHX).
Newsflash: Wall Street loves it.
According to the latest tally from TheFly.com, at least three separate analyst firms have already begun covering L3Harris with buy ratings. The latest appeared just this morning, when SunTrust initiated coverage with a $220 price target.
Here's what the analysts are saying.
Image source: Getty Images.
LHX takes the stage -- and the crowd goes wild
Connecticut-based equity research firm Vertical was first to endorse Harris two weeks ago, followed a week later by financial industry giant Goldman Sachs. Citing recent contract wins, Goldman predicted L3Harris will "quickly" outdistance expectations for it, and set a $240 price target on the (then) $185 stock.
Today, SunTrust is echoing that sentiment, calling L3Harris a "compelling" play on defense technologies. Emerging from its merger as the sixth-largest defense company in the nation, the analyst believes that L3Harris offers the "scale and breadth" of operations to fully capitalize on increased defense spending under the Trump administration.
At the same time, SunTrust says it has faith in management's ability to deliver on a promise of $500 million in post-merger synergies by driving toward a "material reduction" in overhead and supply chain costs and through consolidating facilities.
All of this adds up to a buy thesis and a $220 price target -- at least according to SunTrust.
But should you buy L3Harris? That's a trickier question, and one not made simpler by the newness of this latest entrant onto the field of top-tier defense contractors.
What makes investing in L3Harris stock so tricky? Even nearly a full month after L3 Tech and Harris closed their merger, financial data providers are still struggling to get a grasp on this company and provide accurate numbers. Take as simple a notion as revenue, for example.
Nine months ago at the announcement of their merger, L3 and Harris predicted that their combined businesses would generate roughly $16 billion in annual revenue and operating profits of near $2.4 billion. Nine months later with the merger in the bag, the combined company should be taking a victory lap for exceeding that revenue target -- it's actually generated sales of $17.2 billion over the past year. Yet Yahoo! Finance is still showing L3Harris to be a company with only $6.6 billion in annual revenue!
How can this be?
As best I can figure, most financial data providers are still locked in on thinking that "L3Harris" is more "Harris" than "L3." The data they give for the combined company -- Harris, which generated $6.6 billion in sales last year, plus L3 Technologies, which generated $10.6 billion -- is still showing Harris' revenue alone. And as a result, a company that clearly generated in excess of $17.2 billion is getting credit for only 38% that amount!
There are similar problems with data feeds for L3Harris' profits (which by my calculations may approach $1.9 billion, but read "N/A" on Yahoo!) and free cash flow (probably $2.2 billion in total, judging from data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence).
What it means for investors
This lack of reliable financial data on L3Harris should begin to be cleared up when the company files its first earnings report as a merged entity. Indeed, in a happy coincidence, the next earnings report is due out as early as July 31, and will include financial results for one full "fiscal year." This will provide an excellent opportunity for L3Harris to clear up any lingering ambiguities about its revenue and profits.
That being said, until the Q4 and full-year earnings report comes out, I think investors are best advised to keep a safe distance from L3Harris stock. There's simply no need to risk buying something blind, not knowing exactly what you'll get, when just two weeks' patience should transform L3Harris into a much better-understood investment.
This is why even though SunTrust is saying buy today, I think you're better off holding off for just a little bit longer.
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