The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: AutoNation, Ford Motor, Toyota Motor, Honda Motor and L-3 Communications Holdings

Feb 07, 2013, 09:30 ET from Zacks Investment Research, Inc.

CHICAGO, Feb. 7, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- 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 AutoNation Inc. (NYSE: AN), Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM), Honda Motor Co. (NYSE: HMC) and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. (NYSE: LLL).


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Here are highlights from Wednesday's Analyst Blog:

AutoNation Sales Up 22% in January

Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based automotive retailer AutoNation Inc. (NYSE: AN) posted a 22% year-over-year increase in retail new vehicle unit sales to 19,402 vehicles in Jan 2013. The rise was attributable to strong sales across all the segments. On a same-store basis, retail new vehicle sales went up 18% to 18,891 units.

Sales in the Domestic segment jumped 26% to 6,159 vehicles. The segment comprises retail automotive franchises that sell vehicles manufactured by

Ford Motor Co.



), Chrysler and others.

Sales in the Import segment escalated 18% to 9,388 vehicles. The segment covers retail automotive franchises that sell vehicles manufactured by Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM), Honda Motor Co. (NYSE: HMC) and others.

Sales in the Premium Luxury segment surged 24% to 3,855 vehicles during the month. The segment consists of retail automotive franchises selling vehicles manufactured by Mercedes Benz, BMW, Lexus and others.

On daily selling rate basis, the company's retail new vehicle unit sales increased 17% last month, which had 25 selling days compared with 24 selling days a year ago.

Auto sales in the U.S. went up 14.2% to 1.04 million vehicles in January, resulting in a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 15.3 million units for the year, which is nearly 1 million units higher than 2012.

Sales were boosted by strong pent-up demand owing to the increase in average age of vehicles on U.S. roads to 11.3 years from 10.8 years in 2012. Banks also supported the sales growth by providing greater access to loans with lower interest rates. In addition, improving job market boosted the consumer sentiment to purchase new cars.

Recently, AutoNation reported a 31.4% increase in earnings per share to 67 cents in the fourth quarter of 2012 from 51 cents in the corresponding quarter last year. With this, profits surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 2 cents.

Revenues for the quarter increased 13.5% to $4.2 billion from $3.7 billion in the year-ago quarter. The growth in revenues was driven by strong performance of all the businesses. Revenues were ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $4.0 billion. The company retains a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

L-3 Returns to Shareholders

A few days after its fourth quarter earnings release, L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. (NYSE: LLL) has increased its dividend as well as announced a new share repurchase program. The company focuses on program execution, operational efficiency and disciplined cash deployment which make incremental dividend payouts feasible lending increasing value to shareholders.

L-3 Communications has increased its quarterly dividend by 10%, bringing the annualized dividend to $2.20 per share from the previous payout of $2.00 per share. Following the hike, the company will now pay a quarterly dividend of 55 cents as against the 50 cents paid earlier. The said dividend will be paid on Mar 15, 2013, to shareholders of record as of the close of business on Mar 1, 2013.

This is the company's ninth consecutive annual dividend increase. Last February, the company had increased the quarterly dividend by 11% to 50 cents per share.

As per the new share repurchase program, the company is permitted to repurchase up to an additional $1.5 billion of the company's common stock through Jun 30, 2015. This is the company's sixth repurchase program and is effective immediately. The company plans to fund the program from its cash on hand and cash generated from operations.

Recently, L-3 Communications Holdings reported its fourth quarter 2012 financial results with earnings per share of $2.25 surpassing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2.12 by 6.1%. The results were 11.4% lower than the year-ago earnings of $2.54 per share. During full year 2012, the company returned nearly $1.1 billion to its shareholders through share buybacks and payment of dividend, moderately lower than the 2011 level of $1.14 billion.

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