The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Ferrellgas Partners, SunTrust Banks, Citigroup, Wal-Mart Stores and Safeway

CHICAGO, March 7, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- 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 Ferrellgas Partners LP (NYSE: FGP), SunTrust Banks, Inc. (NYSE: STI), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and Safeway Inc. (NYSE: SWY).

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Here are highlights from Wednesday's Analyst Blog:

Ferrellgas Upgraded to Outperform

On Mar 5, 2013, we upgraded our recommendation on Ferrellgas Partners LP (NYSE: FGP) to Outperform from Neutral. The partnership's earnings surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimates on two out of last four quarters. In the last quarter, the partnership posted positive earnings surprise of 4.35%. Ferrellgas Partners currently has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Reasons for Upgrade

The revision in recommendation was primarily driven by Ferrellgas Partners' steady acquisition strategy, decline in operating costs, strong liquidity positions and steady effort toward debt minimization.

Ferrellgas Partners' recent acquisition of IGS Propane will allow the partnership to provide on-time services with lower transportation costs given its positional advantage. These acquisitions are part of the partnership's long-term strategy to grow as one of the top propane companies.

In addition, Ferrellgas Partners has taken up a restructuring plan for its balance sheet and aims to lower its debt level with the issuance of common units. In the last fiscal year, the partnership issued 1.4 million common units, worth $25.0 million, to redeem part of its outstanding debts. These initiatives will ease up the balance sheet and lower the interest burden.

Riding on the strong positives, the Zacks Consensus Estimates for fiscal-year 2013 earnings per unit currently stands at 59 cents, reflecting year-over-year growth of 753.3%.

SunTrust to Shut Down 40 Branches

SunTrust Banks, Inc. (NYSE: STI) plans to shutter nearly 40 of its branches in the first quarter of this year. The CEO of the company announced the plans to trim branch network on Mar 5 at a U.S. Financial Services Conference held by Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C).

As per a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Mar 5, SunTrust expects to bring down the total number of branches to 1,580 by the end of the current month from 1,616 at the end of 2012.

Besides the closure of these branches in the first quarter, the company expects more closures in 2013. Most of the closures are anticipated to come from the company's in-store network. It expects to cut down the overall number of grocery store partners, but retain strategic partnerships with key departmental stores including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), Safeway Inc. (NYSE: SWY) and The Kroger Co.

The decision to shut down branches comes after a thorough evaluation of branch infrastructure following the migration of clients to self-service avenues like mobile banking and online banking, which reduced cost extensively.

In 2012, SunTrust closed 43 branches as a part of its cost cutting measures. Under these measures, the company also retrenched 2,400 employees and slashed the pay of the existing ones. Since 2010, the branch workforce has been reduced by nearly 10%.

SunTrust is not the only bank that has adopted branch closures and retrenchments to boost the top line. Both big and small financial institutions have been resorting to such strategy amid a bleak macro economic environment.

Currently, SunTrust retains Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

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