This Just In: More Upgrades and Downgrades

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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." While the pinstripe-and-wingtip crowd is entitled to its opinions, we've got some pretty sharp stock pickers down here on Main Street, too. (And we're not always impressed with how Wall Street does its job.)

Given that, perhaps we shouldn't be giving virtual ink to "news" of analyst upgrades and downgrades. And we wouldn't -- if that were all we were doing. Fortunately, in "This Just In," we don't simply tell you what the analysts said. We also show you whether they know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS, our tool for rating stocks and analysts alike. With CAPS, we track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the best...
Add another skeptic to the list of analysts panning TriQuint Semiconductor (NAS: TQNT) . Back in July, if you recall, Charter Equity blasted the wireless chip maker for failing to anticipate a technology shift to 3G and 4G at AT&T (NYS: T) and Verizon (NYS: VZ) . As TriQuint was forced to retool its product to meet its customer's needs, rivals Skyworks (NAS: SWKS) and RF Micro Devices (NAS: RFMD) gained ground, and boasted of growth prospects far superior to what TriQuint was promising.

Today, Barclays is seconding that emotion, and downgrading TriQuint to "equalweight." (Actually, Barclays is having a pretty blue day all around. It also downgraded a pair of Israeli telecoms this morning -- Cellcom Israel (NYS: CEL) and Partner Communications -- and those two got knocked all the way down to "underweight.") But if TriQuint investors breathe a sigh of relief at having at least avoided a "sell" rating, they shouldn't. In addition to the new label Barclays slapped on the stock, the analyst also cut its price target ... in half.

Why so glum, chum?
Why did Barclays downgrade TriQuint? Excellent question. Unfortunately, I can't give you the answer, because Barclays isn't telling. No major news outlets have details on the origin of this downgrade. The banker seems to be keeping tight wraps on the downgrade news, as it doesn't even show up on Briefing.com yet -- and Briefing usually has the skinny on Barclays news before almost anyone else. (In fact, were it not for the ratings sleuths at StreetInsider.com, who announced the downgrade this morning, I wouldn't even have known it happened myself.)

Let's go to the tape
If you own shares of TriQuint and are upset over today's development, I feel your pain. It's bad enough knowing that some faceless investment banker can wreck your investment with the twist of an analytical pen. Seeing this happen without any explanation, or even confirmation that the downgrade happened, just adds insult to the injury your portfolio contained.

Be that as it may, I did warn you that this was a dangerous investment. Barclays' downgrade shouldn't have come as a huge surprise. Let's recap the risks:

At first glance, TriQuint looks like a tempting investment. The stock sells for a mere 7.2 times earnings today, and is cheaper than rivals RF Micro, Skyworks, or Anadigics (NAS: ANAD) . TriQuint's weak guidance brings that P/E up to 9.7 on a "forward earnings" basis, of course. But even so, the near-17% long-term growth estimate that Wall Street has attached to TriQuint makes the shares look cheap.

There's just one problem with that: TriQuint isn't cheap. Not when you look past the GAAP accounting fiction and focus instead on the actual cash profits TriQuint is (not) generating. According to TriQuint's cash flow statement, you see, the $184 million that the company supposedly "earned" over the last 12 months is not actually backed up by any free cash flow whatsoever. To the contrary, TriQuint burned through $55 million in cash over the last 12 months.

Foolish final thought
Now, this isn't uncommon in "bleeding edge" high-tech industries. Indeed, TriQuint has explained how at this time in its lifespan, the company is more intent on growing sales and capturing market share. Free cash flow, promises management, will come later.

And maybe it will. For the time being, though, TriQuint remains a "show me" company. Until the company's cash flow statement shows evidence that management can deliver on its promise to produce real cash profits, I can't endorse the shares -- and Barclays is right to downgrade them.

Willing to give TriQuint a try, but want to keep an eye on its progress? Add the company to your Fool Watchlist.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorRich Smithdoes not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handleTMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 430 out of more than 180,000 members. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.The Motley Fool owns shares of TriQuint Semiconductor.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of AT&T and Cellcom Israel. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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