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This Just In: Upgrades and Downgrades – Abbott Laboratories (ABT), Emerson Electric Co. (EMR)

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At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and “initiating coverage at neutral.” Today, we’ll show you whether those bigwigs actually know what they’re talking about. To help, we’ve enlisted Motley Fool CAPS to track the long-term performance of Wall Street’s best and worst.

Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT)Wall Street goes big on big caps
As investors turned eyes toward the extended weekend, Wall Street issued a final flurry of ratings on stocks such as Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT), Emerson Electric Co. (NYSE:EMR), and in a paired trade, The Procter & Gamble Company (NYSE:PG) and Colgate-Palmolive Company (NYSE:CL). So what did the analysts have to say? Let’s take ’em in order, beginning with…

Abbott Labs
Ace stock picker Stifel Nicolaus (ranked in the top 5% of investors tracked on CAPS) initiated coverage of Abbott Labs with a buy rating and a $40 price target Friday. Stifel argued that having spun off branded drugmaker AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV) last month, what remains of Abbott — Similac, generic drugs, and medical devices — is getting short shrift from investors.

Yet according to Stifel, Abbott is still capable of producing mid-to-upper-single-digit sales growth going forward. Most analysts agree that when you add in some price hikes, a bit of inflation, and profit margin expansion, Abbott is quite capable of generating 12% long-term earnings growth from its business. At a P/E ratio of less than 10, a price-to-free cash flow ratio that’s even lower than that, and paying a 1.6% dividend yield, the stock really does look cheap.

In short, AbbVie may be the apple of investors’ eyes right now, scoring an 8% gain post-spinoff. But with little financial data available about AbbVie on most financial data sites (take a look, for example, at how little Yahoo! Finance knows about AbbVie so far), Abbott Labs looks like the better — and more reliable — bargain.

Emerson Electric
Next up: Emerson. The company’s catching a bit of flack today, from a Wall Street Journal story that ran Monday and poked fun at CEO David Farr for his “salty talk” and threats of physical violence against analysts who “haven’t figured out” the company. Nonetheless, analysts at RBC Capital seem inclined to give Mr. Farr a pass, and on Friday resumed coverage of the industrial equipment maker at “outperform.”

RBC thinks Emerson, priced at $58 and change today, is good for about a 20% gain in stock price over the course of the coming year, to $70. Add in a generous 2.8% dividend yield, and that’s quite a nice profit the analyst is promising us. But is it realistic?

Remember: At 21 times earnings, Emerson currently costs more than twice the P/E ratio of Abbott, yet with a projected growth rate of barely 9%, Emerson is actually growing slower than the stock Stifel recommended.

Granted, like Abbott, Emerson is a free cash flow powerhouse, generating $2.6 billion in real cash profits over the past year, even as its GAAP accounting says the company only earned $2 billion. But even so, the stock’s slow growth rate and 16 times free cash flow valuation don’t appear to offer a compelling bargain.

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