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 this, 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.

Today we're going to take a look at three high-profile ratings moves on Wall Street: A downgrade of oil driller Hyperdynamics (NYS: HDY) , a new "buy" rating on banker BB&T (NYS: BBT) , and a trio of price target hikes for the already buy-rated Curis (NAS: CRIS) .

Hyperdynamics: A bit too exciting
Let's get the bad news out of the way first. Fool readers have long known that Hyperdynamics was an iffy proposition. The stock's rated just one star (our lowest rating) on CAPS, and now we know why. Yesterday, Hyperdynamics admitted that hunting for oil off the coast of Guinea has turned out to be more expensive than it anticipated. In order to stay afloat (so to speak), the company is having to raise $30 million in additional capital, diluting existing shareholders.

Adding injury to insult, the company's selling its new shares at an 11% discount to what the shares fetched before the announcement. Hearing the news, analyst Howard Weil immediately pulled its "outperform" rating on the stock, and downgraded to "market perform." Shocker.

Does BB&T spell "buy?"
Earlier today, I told you about a series of ratings switches that Goldman Sachs handed out to its peers. But did you know that America has more than just five mega-banks left? This morning, the analysts at Wunderlich advised investors to pick up a piece of one such lower-tier player, Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T.

Most folks on Wall Street figure that BB&T can grow its profits at about 10% per year going forward. Wunderlich, however, thinks the bank can do even better for investors. Growing quickly both organically and through acquisitions, the banker projects we will see BB&T shares hit $34 a stub within a year, which translates into a 25% profit for investors at today's prices. Me, I'm not so sure.

At 15 times earnings, BB&T costs more than most of its bigger brethren, while its growth rate is really nothing to get excited about. Citigroup (NYS: C) , for example, offers a P/E ratio barely half of what BB&T costs, and a faster growth rate to boot. Meanwhile, BB&T's 1.1 price-to-book ratio is more than twice what a share of Citi will give you. Combine all this with Wunderlich's anemic record on banking stocks (33.3%, according to CAPS), and I'd sooner bet against BB&T than for it.

Curis: A cure for what ails you?
Last but not least, shares of cancer researcher Curis are defying the market's downturn today, buoyed by a trio of price target hikes from Brean Murray, Summer Street Research, and Oppenheimer. Respectively, these analysts now argue Curis could reach $6, $7, or even $7.50 per share by year's end.

What's got 'em so optimistic? Oppenheimer explains (via StreetInsider.com): "Curis and partner Genentech/Roche ... announced the approval of Erivedge (vismodegib) for the treatment of Advanced Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and pricing of $7,500/month. The approval is ahead of [schedule]." This is, quite simply, wonderful news for Curis investors. It gives hope that this company, which over the past year recorded all of $774,000 in revenues, might actually start raking in some cash pretty soon.

Foolish final thought
Ah, but will it be enough to give Curis the 50% hike in share price that Oppenheimer projects? That, I do not know. Investors had similarly high hopes for Dendreon (NAS: DNDN) once upon a time, but those hopes were dashed when doctors balked at the $93,000 price tag for a course of treatment on Provenge.

On the plus side, Erivedge doesn't have the same upfront cash outlay as Provenge, and Curis may have less trouble persuading doctors to prescribe its product. On the other hand, $7,500 is still a pretty penny. We don't yet know how doctors and patients will react to Curis' chosen price point, what kind of sales it will ultimately produce, or how profitable these sales will be for Curis after Genentech takes its cut. Until these variables are known, an investment in Curis will remain an exercise in guesswork.

Whose advice should you take -- mine, or that of "professional" analysts like Brean Murray, Summer Street Research, and Oppenheimer? Check out my track record on Motley Fool CAPS, and compare it to theirs. Decide for yourself whom to believe.

And if you're looking for more profitable investing ideas in the world of biotech, read the Fool's new -- and free -- report on the industry andDiscover the Next Rule-Breaking Multibaggerbefore Wall Street does.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Dendreon and Citigroup, but Fool contributorRich Smithdoes not own shares of, nor is he short, any company mentioned above. (He does, however, have public recommendations available on 56 separate companies -- check them out on his Motley Fool CAPS page, where he goes by the handleTMFDitty -- and iscurrently ranked No. 348 out of more than 180,000 CAPS members.) The Motley Foolhas adisclosure policy.We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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