Analysts’ upgrades for Tuesday, December 26th:

Abaxis (NASDAQ:ABAX) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a strong sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Abaxis' rising operating expenses and a weak operating margin scenario pose concerns for the company of late. Challenges like competitive bidding continue to hurt the stock. This apart, valuation remains stretched. Overall, in the last six months, Abaxis has been trading below the broader industry. However, a year-over-year increase in revenues buoys optimism. We are looking forward to improved consumable revenues that boosted veterinary sales performance at Abaxis in the quarter. Meanwhile, the company is initiating new sales and marketing strategies. In this regard, recently in September, Abaxis started shipping VetScan UA, urine chemistry analyzer. Abaxis plans additional product launches in fiscal 2018, including the VetScan FUSE connectivity system.”

TD Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $58.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Shares of TD Ameritrade have outperformed the industry in the past six months. Further, the company has a decent earnings surprise. It surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings in two of the trailing four quarters. We remain cautious of elevated costs, which are likely to weigh on its financials. Nevertheless, its deal to acquire Scottrade is likely to be accretive to earnings per share (EPS) in double digits. Also, TD Ameritrade’s steady capital deployment activities and revenue growth are encouraging.”

C.R. Bard (NYSE:BCR) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $372.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “In the last year, C. R. Bard has outperformed the broader industry trends with respect to price performance. Looking forward C. R. Bard is expected to benefit from the impending merger with Becton, Dickinson and Company, especially in the areas of medication management and infection prevention. The $24 billion transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2017. We believe the development will provide benefits to the combined entity and bolster its foothold in the global medical devices market. The growing adoption of Lutonix DCB is also expected to drive top-line growth in the coming quarters.However, a challenging Med-tech environment is a major concern. The company witnesses significant pricing pressure as well. Additionally, cutthroat competition in the hernia fixation and peripheral stent businesses are likely to dent growth. “

Cerner (NASDAQ:CERN) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “We believe that Cerner Corporation has growth opportunities in the revenue cycle management (RCM), Population Health and ambulatory markets based on its product strength and enviable track record.Additionally, a growing percentage of higher margin software in the business mix is expected to drive margins. The company performed impressively in the ambulatory and small hospital markets lately. Cerner has had an impressive run on the bourses in the last year.  However, Cerner Corporation faces currency headwind and macroeconomic challenges. Unfavorable currency translation is also expected to weigh on its sales and earnings in the coming quarters. In recent times, System sales witnessed a major deterioration owing to a decline in technology resale. Furthermore, the HCIT market is highly competitive, which exerts considerable pressure on both pricing and margins.”

Centene (NYSE:CNC) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a strong-buy rating. The firm currently has $117.00 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 guidance raise for 2017 and strong earnings outlook for 2018 instills shareholders' confidence in the company. However, rising level of debt hurts the company's profitability. Moreover, increasing costs also continue to weigh on the margins.”

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $61.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Shares of Fastenal gained 27% in the last six months, compared with 22% growth of its industry. Also, earnings estimates for 2018 have moved upward, reflecting analysts’ optimism. Increased onsite locations and installation of vending machines along with the Mansco acquisition are expected to boost sales. After a soft 2013, vending trends improved thereafter as management’s efforts to enhance the quality of signings/installs paid off. As of Sep 30, 2017, Fastenal operated 69,058 vending machines, up 14.3% year over year. Cost control initiatives are also impressive. However, unfavorable product mix, pricing and competitive pressures are hurting gross margins. Gross margin of 49.4% in the first nine months of 2017 dropped 10 bps from the prior-year quarter.”

Foot Locker (NYSE:FL) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $53.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Investors gave thumbs up to Foot Locker’s third-quarter fiscal 2017 results, wherein both the top and bottom lines beat the consensus mark. This led the stock to take a huge leap and outpace the industry in a month. Clearly, the third-quarter results gave a fresh breath of life to the stock, which in the recent past had struggled on account of dismal performance in the preceding two quarters. However, analysts believe that the euphoria surrounding the stock may be short lived, as Foot Locker continues to register year-over-year decline in both sales and earnings per share. Management now expects comps to decline in the range of 2-4% in the final quarter with earnings per share projected to decrease in the band of 15-25%. Margins are also expected to remain under pressure. Nevertheless, the company is effectively managing inventory, investing in digital platforms, improving supply chain infrastructure and rationalizing store fleet.”

Hasbro (NASDAQ:HAS) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Hasbro is currently benefiting from new products and strategic partnerships, major theatrical releases, along with increased focus on gaming. Consistent efforts to establish its global presence via strategic partnerships and rapid growth in emerging markets is likely to continue driving the company’s top- and bottom–line performance. However, recent Toys "R" Us bankruptcy may continue to impact Hasbro’s revenue and operating profit in the near-term and weigh on its performance. Moreover, rising competition from alternative modes of entertainment might limit top-line growth, while high costs along with macroeconomic and currency headwinds may dent profits. Year to date, shares underperformed the industry. Estimate revisions in the current year earnings have been stable over the last 60 days.”

Integra Lifesciences (NASDAQ:IART) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Integra LifeSciences' contracting adjusted operating margin and adjusted gross margin have been causing troubles for the company of late. Also the company’s decision to sell its certain neurosurgery assets to Natus Medical may hamper its business in near term. However, the strong year-over-year increase in revenues on the back of strong growth within Orthopedics and Tissue Technologies segment buoys optimism. Raised full-year revenue guidance is indicative of this bullish trend to remain. We are happy with the fact that, the company is efficiently executing its growth plan through an efficient management team. However, the slashed full-year adjusted earnings range remains a concern. Overall, over the past year, Integra Lifesciences has been trading above the broader industry.”

Legg Mason (NYSE:LM) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a strong-buy rating. The firm currently has $48.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Shares of Legg Mason have outperformed the industry year to date. The company has displayed an impressive earnings surprise history. It surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings in three of the trailing four quarters. The company’s strategic acquisitions over the last few years, are anticipated to boost top-line growth. Also, Legg Mason’s cost control measures will provide support to its financials. Though, continued equity AUM outflows in the coming years can be a headwind, the company's focus on expanding product offerings for its customers bode well for the long-term.”

Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a strong sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Mattel’s shares have underperformed the industry year to date. Current-quarter and year estimates revisions have also gone down drastically over the past 60 days. The recent Toys "R" Us bankruptcy was a significant drag on the last reported quarter’s revenues and profits and may continue to be so in the near-term. Also, sluggish performance of certain segments and brands along with loss of Disney deal has added to its woes. A challenging retail environment for toys is further hampering the company’s performance. Even so, Mattel expects its Cars franchise, strategic investments in emerging markets and key power brands — Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher-Price — to drive growth. However, various headwinds to revenue & margin growth remain a major cause of concern.The recent dividend suspension might also not go down well with the investors and in turn hurt the company’s stock-price performance.”

McKesson (NYSE:MCK) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $177.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “McKesson has had an unimpressive run on the bourse in the last three months. However, solid performance at the Distribution Solutions segment is likely to drive growth. The company’s strong guidance for fiscal 2018 holds promise. The upside is expected to be driven by market growth, acquisitions and divestitures. Recently, McKesson announced that it has entered into an agreement to buy RxCrossroads from CVS Health for $735 million. The acquisition is expected to close by fourth-quarter. On the flipside, revenues from Technology Solutions are expected to be down year over year. Furthermore, stiff competition, currency headwind and reimbursement issues remain challenges. Pricing pressure in the independent retail pharmacy channel is a headwind. Particularly, McKesson’s sell-side pricing environment continues to remain competitive with less pricing variability.”

MarketAxess (NASDAQ:MKTX) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “MarketAxess’ stock has outperformed the industry in a year's time. The company's escalating costs remain a significant headwind. Its expenses are expected to rise over the coming quarters given ongoing investments in several areas including trading platform, new protocols and infrastructure as well as headcount additions. Also, low market volatility and foreign exchange volatility continue to bother. Nevertheless, MarketAxess’ results have been impressive for long courtesy of growth in revenues, improving trading volumes, ongoing investments in areas including Open Trading, launch of products and its strong market position in U.S. credit. Also, it continues to benefit from international business, with strength in both emerging markets and Eurobond spaces.  The stock has, however, seen the Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year earnings being revised 2.5% downward over the last 60 days.”

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $96.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Microsoft shares have outperformed the industry it belongs to on a year-to-date basis. We expect rapid adoption of Azure and Office 365 to remain the key catalysts in the near future. This along with lower spending will drive operating margin expansion in fiscal 2018. We believe that collaborations with the likes of Amazon, Red Hat, Symantec, Cray and PAREXEL are positive for the company's growth prospects. We also believe that Microsoft’s strategic initiatives to enter the augmented reality and virtual reality market with the acquisition of Altspace VR and launch of mixed reality headsets will be positives. Additionally, Microsoft’s recent blockchain deals with Hapoalim and Accenture and its Coco framework are tailwinds. However, intense competition from Sony’s PS4 is a headwind. Additionally, declining PC shipments doesn't bode well for the company.”

Bank Of The Ozarks (NASDAQ:OZRK) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $55.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Shares of Bank of the Ozarks have underperformed the industry over the last six months. Yet, the company has an impressive earnings surprise history, having surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate in three of the trailing four quarters. Consistent growth in loans and deposits, and easing margin pressure will continue to aid the company’s profitability. Also, its efficient capital deployment activities represent a solid balance sheet position. However, persistently rising operating expenses due to the company’s expansion strategy through de novo branching are expected to curb bottom-line growth.”

Restaurant Brands International (NYSE:QSR) (TSE:QSR) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $69.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Restaurant Brands’ shares have outpaced its industry over the past year. Moreover, current-quarter and year earnings estimates have gone up over the past two months, reflecting analysts’ optimism surrounding the stock. Various sales-boosting initiatives like improving services, reimaging restaurants, menu innovation along with continued expansion should drive the top line. In fact, the company believes that there is opportunity to grow both the Tim Hortons and Burger King brands across the world. The acquisition of Popeye’s also bodes well as it adds a solid brand to its portfolio, which should further ramp up unit growth and aid in reducing costs. The company aims to continue focusing on guest satisfaction and franchisee profitability. However, rising costs along with negative currency translation might dent the company’s profitability, while a soft consumer spending environment could keep comps under pressure.”

Skechers USA (NYSE:SKX) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $43.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Greater emphasis on new line of products, cost containment efforts, inventory management and global distribution platform have helped lift Skechers’ performance. After witnessing a negative earnings surprise in the second quarter of 2017, Skechers made a sharp come back in the third quarter with the bottom line outperforming the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 37.2%. Following the sturdy performance, shares have been on a bull run and have outpaced the industry in the past three months. Net sales also beat the estimate for the fourth quarter in row gaining from solid performances at the international wholesale business and company-owned global retail operations. Management now expects both the top and bottom lines to increase year over year during the final quarter. However, higher general & administrative expenses remain a matter of concern. Nevertheless, Skechers expects the rate of increase to decelerate going forward.”

Synovus Financial (NYSE:SNV) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $55.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Shares of Synovus have outperformed the industry year to date. This price performance is backed by the impressive earnings surprise history. The company has surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings in all the trailing four quarters. Synovus’ organic and inorganic growth strategies position the company well for the future. Further, its focus on balance-sheet growth keeps us encouraged. The company’s promising capital deployment activities reflect its strong capital position. However, escalating expenses remain a concern.”

SunTrust Banks (NYSE:STI) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $74.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “SunTrust’s shares have outperformed the industry over the past six months. Also, the company has an impressive earnings surprise history, having surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate in three of the trailing four quarters. Easing margin pressure, rise in loan demand, initiatives to control costs and improving asset quality will continue to support the company’s profitability. Further, impressive capital deployment activities reflect a strong capital position. However, continued slowdown in mortgage operations is expected to have an adverse impact on the bank’s non-interest income. While its significant exposure to commercial and residential loan portfolios remains a concern, lower corporate tax rate will likely support profitability.”

Texas Capital Bancshares (NASDAQ:TCBI) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $104.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Shares of Texas Capital have outperformed the industry so far this year. This price performance is backed by the company’s decent earnings surprise history. It surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate in three of the trailing four quarters. The company’s diversified fee income sources should continue driving its top-line growth. Also, Texas Capital’s margins have relaxed to some extent, following  four rate hikes since December 2016. However, persistently increasing expenses mainly due to hiring of experienced bankers is likely to hurt bottom line growth. Nevertheless, the company's strong capital position remains a tailwind.”

Teradyne (NYSE:TER) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a strong-buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $49.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “The strong performance in Semiconductor Test Business in drving revenues for the company. Also, a recovery in the core semiconductor business (processors, MCUs and power management), long-term opportunities in the high-growth wireless test market, growing memory market exposure, strong product lineup, lean cost structure and strong balance sheet are positives. Given the popularity of its products, the Universal Robots acquisition and the continuous design win momentum; the company is optimistic long-term prospects. However, volatility in the test market could be a concern in the near term. On a year-to-date basis, the stock has outperformed the industry it belongs to.”

Trimble (NASDAQ:TRMB) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $45.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Trimble has outperformed the industry on a year-to-date basis. The company’s aggressive acquisition strategy is helping it to rapidly expand product portfolio, improve competitive positions and enter new markets. Recent acquisitions have expanded Trimble’s Transportation, Agriculture Management and Forest solutions portfolio. Moreover, they have aided the company to expand in markets like Germany, Finland and Canada. We also note that the company’s initiatives toward lowering the cost structure is helping in improving profits.  The company expects operating margin expansion to continue, going forward. However, intensifying competition, weakness in European Geospatial market, slow down in Asia Pacific, uncertainty in the United States and Mexico are major headwinds. Recent acquisitions are also expected to be dilutive to the bottom-line, which does not augur well for investors.”

Tractor Supply (NASDAQ:TSCO) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $83.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Tractor Supply remains focused on its store growth initiatives, which has helped the company to surpass the industry in the past three months. Further, the company is set to gain from its solid omni-channel efforts, with its Buy Online Pick Up in Store plan in particular. This also fueled Tractor Supply’s third-quarter 2017 results, wherein it topped earnings and sales estimates, alongside maintaining its year-over-year growth trend. Results gained from solid comps, which were driven by strength across all regions and major product categories. Moreover, higher demand for cold weather products keeps the company well positioned for the fall and winter season. These trends encouraged management to raised 2017 view. However, deflation was a headwind in the third quarter, which is expected to linger in 2017. Furthermore, management expects SG&A expense deleverage in the fourth quarter, where gross margin is also likely to be pressurized.”

Universal Health Services (NYSE:UHS) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Universal Health’s s shares have outperformed the industry year to date. Its inorganic growth impresses. Consistent growth in its revenue base on the back of solid Acute Care and Behavioral Health platforms also remains a positive. However, the company is  exposed to integration risks owing to several acquisitions. Further, its highly leveraged balance sheet is a major headwind. Based upon the operating trends and financial results during the first nine months of 2017, the company has lowered its 2017 earnings guidance for the second time, so far this year. “

Verisign (NASDAQ:VRSN) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “VeriSign is benefiting from rise in domain name registrations in the global market. Moreover, strong gTLD prospects, international expansion through IDNs and investments in intellectual properties bode well for long-term growth. Shares have also outperformed the industry in the past one year. However, VeriSign can get affected by soft growth in the active domain name business for .com and .net TLDs. Rising operating expenses related to sales and marketing will remain an overhang on its margins. The negative impact of search engine adjustments on domain monetization is also a headwind. Additionally, overall renewal rate for domains have been softening, especially for first-time renewals, which will continue to affect its top-line growth.”

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