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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: HSBC Bank, Avon Products, Groupon, Symantec and Intel

For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL – April 3, 2012 – Zacks.com announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include HSBC Bank (HBC), Avon Products (AVP), Groupon (GRPN), Symantec Corp. (SYMC) and Intel Corp. (INTC).

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Here are highlights from Monday’s Analyst Blog:

New Quarter, New Expectations

Hardly anyone expects stocks to sustain the impressive momentum from the first quarter as a new quarter gets underway. But few expected the market to do as well as it did in the first three months of the year either, when a combination of improving domestic economic data and fading European fears helped improve risk appetites.

Driving the market’s near-term trajectory will be a heavy schedule of economic data in this holiday-shortened week, starting with the official Chinese PMI reading, released over the weekend.

The official Chinese PMI reading turned out to be better than expected at 53.1, up from February’s 51.0 reading. This contradicts of the private-sector PMI reading from HSBC Bank (HBC) released last week showing the factory sector in contractionary territory. Apparently the HSBC survey is more geared towards small and medium-sized export-centric firms that are facing some difficulties in accessing bank credit due to tight lending standards, while the official PMI survey more closely tracks larger firms.

The disconnect between the two data points makes it difficult to firm handle on the country’s manufacturing sector. But it nevertheless lowers the odds of a sharp drop in Chinese output.

Beyond today’s spotlight, the focus the rest of this week will be the labor market, with March’s non-farm payroll report coming out Friday morning. Since the market will be closed that day in observance of Good Friday, we will have to wait till Monday to get investors’ reaction to the jobs report.

The expectation is for another 200K reading for total gains and a bit higher reading for private-sector jobs. With weekly jobless claims in the 350K vicinity, the March expectation seems reasonable. But a number of analysts have been casting doubts over the recent run of positive labor market readings on seasonality grounds. Their contention is that this year’s unusually mild winter contributed to the job gains over the last three months. It will be interesting to see if a positive March jobs reading will end that debate.

In corporate news, Avon Products (AVP) is rejecting the roughly $10 billion buyout bid from privately-held Coty Inc, claiming that the bid ‘substantially undervalues’ the company. Shares of Groupon (GRPN) will also be in focus after the company’s restatement of prior results after the close on Friday. The issue raises questions about the daily deals company’s accounting practices and outlook.

Symantec Solutions in Demand

California-based global leader in security solutions, Symantec Corp. (SYMC) announced that its Protection Suite (Enterprise Edition) and Backup Exec are being used by Premiere Global Sports Inc. The deal must have been signed some time back and hence no financial details pertaining to it are available.

Premiere Global Sports is a provider of travel, hospitality, and marketing products and services. The company also arranges for sports tickets. Being a 75-man show, Premiere Global is recognized as a small business. But sky-rocketing data storage forced the company to opt for Symantec’s Protection Suite, which is customized for enterprises but has a small-business version as well.

With the Protection Suite, the sports company aims to secure its multiple independent servers and Windows endpoints, including email server and Web gateway virtual appliances. On the other hand, Backup Exec simplified both backup and disaster recovery management of the virtualized information technology system. Overall, Premiere Global Sports found Symantec’s products very useful, as they were able to protect, store and recover valuable data within its virtualized environment.

Apart from this, Japan-based optical instruments provider Nikon Corp. opted for Symantec’s Clearwell eDiscovery Platform to process, search and analyze data required to judge a case, in house.

Symantec’s deal wins will continue. The reason behind this is the company’s relentless effort to capture the security market with the latest iterations of its flagship products. In March, the company introduced the latest version of Symantec Data Insight 3.0, which will improve information management and facilitate the usage of unstructured data such as documents, presentations, spreadsheets and emails.

Symantec’s prospects look bright with the U.S. research firm Gartner’s expectations, which says that worldwide spending on security software could rise 10% this year to $20.7 billion.

The company’s exposure in the mobile security and data management market is encouraging. But uncertainty over PC sales is going to hit its Consumer segment throughout the year. Moreover, reduction in tech spending by different government and private organizations, stiff competition from McAfee -- acquired by Intel Corp. (INTC) -- as well as the prevailing economic turmoil in Europe will likely dampen the company’s business prospects. Symantec’s guidance was weak, and we believe that this could be due to the above-mentioned reasons.

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