Stock Analysts’ upgrades for Friday, September 15th:

Big Lots (NYSE:BIG) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $55.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Though, Big Lots’ shares have underperformed the industry in a month, the trend might reverse in the near term owing to better-than-expected second-quarter fiscal 2017 results and encouraging earnings outlook. Moreover, the top line also surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate after missing the same in the trailing four quarters on account of robust performance of furniture and soft home. Following the results, management raised fiscal 2017 earnings guidance but remained somewhat cautious about its sales and comparable store sales performance. Sales growth for the full year is predicted to be in the range of 2-2.5%, compared with earlier guided range of 2-3%. Meanwhile, its furniture financing programs have been consistently gaining traction. However, the challenging retail landscape, aggressive promotional strategies and waning store traffic might weigh on the performance.”

Centene Corporation (NYSE:CNC) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $107.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Year to date, Centene’s shares have outperformed the industry. The company’s strong and consistent performance is likely to have generated confidence among the investors. It has seen substantial inorganic growth in the last five years. The acquisition of Health Net in 2016 bolstered the company’s growth, expansion and asset base. Its solid financial position provides a major boost to its capital deployment initiatives. The company’s strong Managed care segment also contributes to its strong results. The stock has seen the Zacks Consensus Estimate for the current year being revised upward by 3.4% in the last 60 days.”

CyberArk Software (NASDAQ:CYBR) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Estimates for CyberArk have been stable off late. We are optimistic about the company, given a healthy security market, strong product lineup, deal wins and investment plans, which are likely to boost results in the long run. Furthermore, CyberArk’s strategy of growing through acquisitions is encouraging. Additionally, investments in product suite and go-to-market are the other positives for the company. Nonetheless, decelerating revenue growth trend makes us slightly cautious about its near-term performance. It should be noted that, in the last three quarters the company has reported the slowest revenue growth rate since it was enlisted in Sep 2014. Prior to the second quarter, it was around 25%, but in the last quarter it came even worse at 14%. Prior to the last three quarters, CyberArk had witnessed over 35% revenue growth every quarter. Notably, the stock has underperformed the industry over the last one year.”

Domino’s Pizza (NYSE:DPZ) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $213.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Domino's shares have outpaced the industry year to date. The company’s solid brand positioning should continue to boost sales in the upcoming quarters. Also, efforts to accelerate its presence in high-growth international markets bode well. Notably, the company’s revenues and earnings surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate in each of the trailing four quarters. In fact, second-quarter 2017 marked the 25th and 94th consecutive quarter of positive same-store-sales domestically and internationally, respectively. However, a soft consumer spending environment in the U.S. restaurants space might limit revenue growth. Higher costs and negative currency translation are likely to hurt profits too. Nevertheless, going forward, Domino's initiatives on the digital front, focus on re-imaging and other sales boosting strategies are expected to help sustain the momentum.”

Duke Energy Corporation (NYSE:DUK) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $98.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Duke Energy’s hefty investment plans for the next five years is expected to improve its business by generating cleaner energy and bolstering its renewable asset base, buoys optimism. Moreover, over the next 10 years, Duke Energy plans to strengthen its energy delivery system by investing $25 billion to create a more modern, smarter energy grid. The company has also been pursuing additional generation projects, such as dual-fuel capabilities, and combined heat and power facilities to increase the flexibility of its system. Duke Energy also pursues a systematic asset divestment initiative. Moreover, it outperformed the broader industry in the last year. Yet, potential volatility in market prices of fuel, electricity and other renewable energy commodities could create operational risks for the company. In addition, adverse outcome from pending regulatory cases may negatively impact Duke Energy’s earnings.”

Brinker International (NYSE:EAT) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Brinker’s aggressive expansion strategies and sales building initiatives like streamlining of menu and innovation value offerings along with its loyalty program should boost comps. Increased focus on company-owned restaurants, which allows it to have full control over operations, is also expected to boost the bottom as well as the top line. Also, various operational, remodeling and digital initiatives are likely to drive growth. However, the company’s revenues missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate in eight of the trailing ten quarters, mainly due to traffic decline at its restaurants. Also, Brinker’s shares have underperformed the industry year to date. Further, higher labor as well as costs related to various initiatives might continue to hurt margins, while overall choppiness in the restaurant space might keep on pressurizing comps in the coming quarters.”

GATX Corporation (NYSE:GATX) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $66.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Shares of GATX Corporation have outperformed the industry it belongs to, in a year, on the back of its strong product portfolio. Moreover, the company has an impressive earnings history having outshined the Zacks Consensus Estimate in each of the past four quarters with an average beat of 32.8%. We are also impressed by GATX Corporation's efforts to reward investors through share buybacks and dividend payments. The company has been paying regular dividends continuously since 1919. In Jan 2017, the company raised its quarterly dividend by 5%. Additionally, the improvement in profits at the Rail International segment is encouraging. However, the company's struggles on the top line front bother us. Moreover, GATX is a highly leveraged company.”

Honeywell International (NYSE:HON) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $154.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Honeywell’s diversified business portfolio has the potential to earn consistent above-average returns and mitigate operating risks through a balanced organic and inorganic model. A diligent focus on working capital management, free cash flow generation and a conservative balance sheet remain key positives. The company’s balanced mix of long- and short-cycle businesses, along with a decent organic growth in new products and expansion in high-growth regions augur well on a long-term perspective. With a flexible yet disciplined focus on cost and productivity, Honeywell remains focused on increasing its presence in high-growth regions. The company also outperformed the industry year to date. However, adverse foreign currency translations, high R&D expenses to fend off competition and volatility in commodity prices are likely to peg back its growth momentum to some extent.”

IDEX Corporation (NYSE:IEX) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $135.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “With a flexible yet disciplined focus on cost and productivity, IDEX expects to successfully tap newer markets to boost its revenue. The company intends to optimize its cost structure, increase competitiveness and reallocate resources to improve profitability. IDEX further aims to increase its market exposure and improve sales mix by continually developing new products. IDEX has historically generated a healthy cash flow that allows management the opportunity to invest in product innovations, acquisitions and business development. Management also raised its earlier guidance for 2017 on robust demand patterns and healthy growth dynamics. IDEX outperformed the industry year to date. However, huge recurring R&D expenses increase operating costs and reduce price control over products, which often result in the loss of market share, poor sales and lower operating margins.”

Lennar Corporation (NYSE:LEN) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $57.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Lennar is one of the best-positioned homebuilders to capitalize on the housing recovery, courtesy of the diverse revenue mix, steady top-line performance, above-average order growth and improving SG&A leverage. Moreover, the company’s ancillary platforms — Rialto, Multi-Family, FivePoint and Financial Services — are evolving and should improve further. Lennar remains focused on continued improvement in the SG&A line from operating leverage and investments in technology. Also, the acquisition of WCI Communities is expected to generate strong gross margin given its portfolio of high quality, low cost land and 51 communities. Meanwhile, although Lennar shares underperformed the industry over the last three months, earnings estimates for the current year and the next have moved upward. However, labor shortages, rising land and labor costs as well as interest rate can keep the housing momentum in check going”

Public Storage (NYSE:PSA) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Shares of Public Storage outperformed its industry, in a month’s time. Moreover, the stock has seen the Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year funds from operations (FFO) per share being unchanged over the past seven days. Notably, Public Storage is one of the largest owners and operators of storage facilities in the U.S. The brand is the most recognized and established name in the self-storage industry, with presence in all major metropolitan markets of the nation. Moreover, the company’s acquisition and expansion efforts look encouraging. Recently, Public Storage disclosed the opening of its 116th facility in Houston. It also has a healthy balance-sheet position. However, there is softness in demand, with customers remaining under stress due to the current economic environment. Further, supply has been rising in a number of markets and this affects the company’s pricing power and occupancy level.”

United Natural Foods (NASDAQ:UNFI) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “United Natural’s recently reported fourth-quarter fiscal 2017 earnings benefited from the sale of its stake holdings in Kicking Horse coffee. This indicates that the company has been making solid progress with its rationalizing efforts. Additionally, acquisition related benefits have been aiding the company’s top line for a while now. During the fourth quarter, the company’s top line depicted a year-on-year gain of 5.7% owing to Gourmet Guru and Haddon House acquisitions. Nevertheless, we note that the company has been grappling with ongoing industry challenges, including competitive pricing and moderate inflation. As a result, shares of United Natural have underperformed the Consumer Staples sector in the past six months. We also note that sales of the company have lagged estimates for the last 11 quarters. Moreover, United Natural’s excessive dependency on its sole customer Whole Foods Market poses as a formidable risk.”

Unum Group (NYSE:UNM) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $54.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Shares of Unum Group have outperformed industry in a year's time. Moreover, the company has witnessed its 2017 and 2018 estimates moving north over the last 60 days. The company’s premiums continue to increase, fueled by solid persistency levels in core business lines and sturdy volume of sales, along with solid benefits experience. Acquisitions have provided an additional support. Starmount Life Insurance Company buyout gave access to growth opportunities in the dental market, which is in sync with its strategy to focus more on the employee benefits business. A sustained favorable performance drives solid capital generation and strong financial flexibility aiding active capital deployment. Unum expects 2017 operating earnings to grow 5–8% over the 2016 level. However, exposure to low interest rate environment remains the key headwind affecting the Unum U.K. results.”

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