CHICAGO, April 13, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks Equity Research highlights: Valmont Industries (NYSE: VMI) as the Bull of the Day and Dril-Quip, Inc. (NYSE: DRQ) as the Bear of the Day. In addition, Zacks Equity Research provides analysis on Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Amazon(Nasdaq: AMZN) and Barnes & Noble(NYSE: BKS).
We are reaffirming our Outperform recommendation on Valmont Industries (NYSE: VMI). Fourth quarter earnings of $1.83 per share outpaced the Zacks Consensus Estimate. Revenues increased by double digits, led by significant growth in the Irrigation Segment.
Valmont is witnessing significant strength in the irrigation market and an improving demand for utility transmission structure. Going forward, management envisions a continued strong performance in 2012. The outlook for irrigation equipment is healthy while demand for Utility Support Structures is expected to rise.
Our long-term Outperform recommendation on the stock indicates that it would exceed the broader market. Our price target of $138 is based on 18.3x our fiscal 2012 earnings estimate.
We are downgrading our recommendation on Dril-Quip, Inc. (NYSE: DRQ) to Underperform from Neutral. The company remains exposed to the highly volatile oil and gas sector fundamentals.
We remain concerned about company-specific risks, which include new product growth challenges and potential backlog losses. Additionally, delays in deepwater infrastructure awards may also hinder the growth prospect of Dril-Quip.
The company has also exhibited restricted growth in the past few quarters and we remain cautious going forward. However, increased deepwater activity over the near term, recent capacity additions in Brazil and Singapore, as well as ongoing capacity expansions could prove beneficial over time.
Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and five frontline book publishers were recently sued by the Department of Justice (DOJ), for conspiring and manipulating e-book prices.
The civil antitrust lawsuit filed in the District Court for the Southern District in New York accused Apple, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, Simon & Schuster Inc, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan and Penguin Group of hatching a secret plot to inflate e-book prices aimed at curbing Amazon's(Nasdaq: AMZN) dominance in the e-book market.
An Account of the Allegations
As per details available from the filing, the story goes back to 2007, when Amazon launched its e-book reader Kindle. Amazon began to offer e-books at a lower discounted price ($9.99) much to the ire of publishers, whose retail businesses suffered significant market share loss. The move paid off for Amazon, as the company grabbed 90% of the e-book market within a couple of years since the launch of Kindle.
Amazon further miffed publishers when it proposed that authors should directly sell their books to the company, bypassing the publishers. Reportedly, Amazon promised a lucrative royalty of 70% to the authors. Publishers feared that Amazon's entry into the publishing market would ruin their businesses. Around the same time, Apple was on the verge of launching its iconic tablet iPad and was also considering an entry into the rapidly growing e-book retail market.
However, Apple feared Amazon's dominant position in the market and believed that it would be difficult to compete against Amazon's low priced business model. According to the DOJ, this bought the two parties (Apple and publishers) together to fight a single common enemy: Amazon. As per the DOJ's investigation, the next phase comprised a number of secret meetings (also e-mail & phone conversations) between the two parties in Manhattan and certain parts of Europe.
Finally, Apple and the publishers agreed on an agency-based revenue model, much different from the wholesale model practiced by Amazon. As per the agency model, Apple became an agent (not retailer as compared to Amazon) of the publishers, earning 30.0% commission on every e-book sold. The publishers entered into a contract with Apple, which ensured that both the parties would move together to raise the retail prices of e-books.
The agreement also required that the publishers would not sell the same books to any other retailer (Amazon in this case) at a lower price than Apple. The DOJ alleges that the conspiracy resulted in inflating e-book prices by an average $2.0 to $3.0 in a three day period in early 2010, which resulted in consumers paying millions of dollars more for e-books.
Most importantly, we believe that the move hurt Amazon's dominant market position, since the company's market share dropped to approximately 60.0% by the end of 2011.
However, Amazon's loss was gain for Barnes & Noble(NYSE: BKS), which currently holds approximately 25.0% to 30.0% of the e-book market share. Apple did not achieve the magnitude of success it had anticipated, and to date, the company's e-book business contributes a very small part of its total revenue.
Although Apple did not comment on the federal suit, the company is known for maintaining a defiant stance over the issue. Recently, in a class action suit, Apple rejected all claims of conspiracy and argued that the company had vigorously negotiated with individual publishers for all the agreements, and hence they were legitimate.
Apple is also facing a couple of other lawsuits relating to the same issue. Simultaneous to the filing of the DOJ case, a group of 16 U.S. states also sued Apple and the five publishers alleging that consumers have lost more than $100.0 million as result of inflated e-book prices. The European commission is also investigating Apple and publishers in a similar anti-trust case. Recently, the commission said that it has received settlement proposals from Apple, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Hachette Livre and Macmillan.
Just after the DOJ case was filed, three accused publishers, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette reached an agreement to settle the case with the DOJ. As per the terms of the settlement, the three publishers will terminate their agreements with Apple and will also refrain from doing business on the agency model for the next couple of years.
According to Reuters, HarperCollins and Hachette also settled with a group of 16 states and agreed to pay $51.0 million as penalty. However, Apple, Penguin and Macmillan were not a part of the DOJ settlement and these parties have denied any wrongdoing.
Following the filing of the DOJ case, Amazon announced its intentions of lowering e-book prices. Barnes & Noble is expected to follow suit.
We believe that Apple will vehemently fight off the anti-trust allegations in the U.S. to protect its reputation among its loyal customer base. Apple's defiant stance has already been successful in garnering support from a number of publishers and book store owners, since these parties stand to lose the most from the low-priced business model followed by Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
No Near-Term Difficulties for Apple Shares
As lawsuits of this type tend to linger for a long time, we do not see any near-term challenges for Apple. In any case, since the e-book segment does not form a major part of Apple's business, we believe that the lawsuit will not be an overhang to the stock going forward.
We continue to believe that Apple remains the biggest growth story in the tech sector, based on its superior product pipeline, Apps, iCloud and iPhone 4S, the "new iPad" and Apple TV. Apple is also well positioned to gain from its loyal customer base and international expansion, in our view.
We have an Outperform rating on Apple over the long term. Currently, Apple has a Zacks #2 Rank, implying a short-term Buy rating.
Every day, the analysts at Zacks Equity Research select two stocks that are likely to outperform (Bull) or underperform (Bear) the markets over the next 3-6 months.
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