Equities Research Analysts’ upgrades for Thursday, September 21st:

Accenture PLC (NYSE:ACN) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $155.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Accenture offers management consultancy, technology and outsourcing services. Shares of the company have outperformed the industry over the past year. We are positive about Accenture’s latest product additions in the analytics application space, given the increasing demand for digital solutions. Moreover, Accenture’s strategy of growing through partnerships like Apple and acquisitions like IBB and VERAX are encouraging. The strategies have enabled Accenture to enter new markets, diversify and broaden its product portfolio, and maintain its leading position. Nonetheless, Accenture’s recent announcement of creating 15K new jobs by 2020 and investment plan of $1.4 billion for employee training and opening of 10 innovation centers across the U.S. cities may dent its bottom-line results in our opinion. Furthermore, increasing competition from peers and an uncertain macroeconomic environment may deter its growth to some extent.”

Aflac (NYSE:AFL) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $94.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Aflac shares have outperformed its industry year to date. Efforts to increase agent productivity, emphasis on sale of third-sector products, pull back on sale of first-sector products, and the introduction of new products are likely to drive long-term growth. Its strong capital position enables it to buy back shares and increase dividend payouts. Its U.S segment continues to perform strongly and will continue as company has undertaken a number of growth initiatives in this business. A favorable earnings guidance against the back drop of continued challenges in its Japan business instills our confidence in the company. Also, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2017 and 2018 moved up 2.3% and 0.7%, respectively, in the last 60 days.”

Applied Industrial Technologies (NYSE:AIT) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $69.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Over the last month, Applied Industrial’s shares outperformed the industry. The company reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter fiscal 2017 results. Quarterly adjusted earnings of 78 cents per share surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by a penny. The company believes that robust upstream business, sturdy performance of the U.S. Fluid Power business, and superior customer servicing skills will likely bolster its top-line performance in the quarters ahead. Moreover, sound restructuring moves, greater productivity and increased cost discipline are projected to strengthen the company’s near-term bottom-line performances. Notably, the company remains committed towards its shareholders. Over the last 60 days Zacks Consensus Estimate for the stock moved north for both fiscal 2018 and 2019.”

AMTEK (NYSE:AME) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $74.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “AMETEK is a leading manufacturer of electronic appliances and electromechanical devices. The company posted better-than-expected second-quarter 2017 results surpassing the Zacks Consensus Estimate on earnings and revenues. AMETEK continues to reap the benefits from the execution of its four core growth strategies of operational excellence, global market expansion, investments in product development and strategic acquisitions. This, in combination with a strong portfolio of differentiated businesses, is expected to help the company post better results, going forward. However, weakness in its balance sheet and integration issues and an overly high goodwill associated with an aggressive acquisition strategy are concerns. Foreign exchange headwinds remain. Year to date, the stock has underperformed the  industry it belongs to.”

Boeing Company (The) (NYSE:BA) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $286.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Boeing's share has outperformed the industry's rally over the last one year. Boeing is the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world in terms of revenue, orders and deliveries, and one of the largest aerospace and defense contractors. The company’s 20-year market outlook, forecasts commercial jetliner demand to increase by 3.6%. The single-aisle jets are expected to be the major driver behind demand growth. Further, the company’s defense business stands out among its peers by virtue of its broadly diversified programs and strong order bookings. However, the company continues to face challenges from order cancellations, stiff competition as well as falling delivery numbers. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner's deferred production cost also remains a cause of concern for the company. For its 747 model, weak demand for large commercial passenger and freighter aircraft also adds to the woes.”

Banco De Chile (NYSE:BCH) was upgraded by analysts at Santander from a hold rating to a buy rating.

Big Lots (NYSE:BIG) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $55.00 target price 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.”

Crown Holdings (NYSE:CCK) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $68.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Crown Holdings projects 2017 adjusted diluted earnings per share in the range of $3.90–$4.05. Adjusted diluted earnings per share for the third quarter are projected in the range of $1.35–$1.45. To meet growing beverage can demand, the company intends to build new facilities and is poised to gain from the geographic expansion of its beverage can lines. Additionally, it is poised to gain from potential strategic acquisitions in geographic areas and product lines. In the past year, Crown Holdings has outperformed the industry. The company has a positive record of earnings surprises in the last few quarters.”

Carnival Corporation (NYSE:CCL) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $72.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Carnival shares have outpaced the industry in the past year. Given burgeoning demand for cruise travel in 2017, the addition of new ships to its fleet bodes well. Carnival believes that it is well positioned for continued earnings growth, given the current strength in its bookings along with pricing trends for the year. Notably, its brand building efforts together with other marketing activities are driving bookings. Its strategy of growing beyond familiar itineraries and capitalizing on fast growing markets is likely to further drive growth. Meanwhile, estimates have been stable lately ahead of its fiscal third quarter earnings release and the company has positive record of earnings surprises in recent quarters. However, adverse forex translations, higher costs along with macroeconomic issues in key operating regions remain headwinds. A potential increase in fuel costs can also hamper its profitability.”

Cummins (NYSE:CMI) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $187.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Zacks Consensus Estimate for Cummins’ quarterly earnings has been going up of late. The company expects to witness a growing trend in its truck and construction products’ demand, along with growth in global mining customers, which will have a positive impact on its sales figure. The company is also developing a Class 7 heavy-duty electric truck having a 140 kWh battery pack, to cater bus and commercial truck operators. Moreover, it has also provided an improved outlook for fiscal 2017. The company is also poised to benefit from its business expansions in China and acquisitions and partnerships in North America. Also, its shares have outperformed against the industry, year to date.”

Cintas Corporation (NASDAQ:CTAS) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $153.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Cintas aims to continually achieve revenue build-up by increasing penetration levels at existing customers and broadening the customer base. The acquisition of G&K Services is anticipated to be accretive to Cintas’ earnings. The combined company is likely to cater to over one billion business customers with an extended product portfolio and additional processing capacity. The synergies from the combined operations are expected to yield $130 million to $140 million in cost savings from the fourth year of its operation. Cintas’ investment strategy takes a holistic view of the rapidly evolving market and deploys a dynamic capital allocation approach to focus on the relative value of the various sectors within the broader industry. Cintas has also outperformed the industry year to date. However, volatility in raw material prices and third-party supply constraints remain potential headwinds for the company.”

Dun & Bradstreet Corporation (The) (NYSE:DNB) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $126.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “We continue to expect that Dun & Bradstreet will benefit from its high-margin business model and strong product portfolio. Its partnerships with big players have also helped it bring many more customers into the fold. Plus, the company is also well-positioned to gain from its strategic acquisitions and alliances. The company’s focus on expanding analytics capabilities is also a positive. Plus, cost savings resulted in a strong operating margin performance in the last reported quarter. Management has now raised the lower end of its operating margin growth for the year. However, stiff competition, weak DNBi business and high debt continue to remain areas of concerns. Shares have underperformed the broader market in the past one year.”

Domino’s Pizza (NYSE:DPZ) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $221.00 target price 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. 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. 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.”

Gap, Inc. (The) (NYSE:GPS) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $31.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Gap’s shares have outpaced the industry so far this year, driven by its solid focus on enhancing product quality and responsiveness to changing consumer trends. Evidently, the company has been making constant efforts to boost its digital and mobile offerings, alongside improving product acceptance. Further, the company’s new growth strategy focused on growing its Old Navy and Athleta brands looks promising. The company expects to open 270 new Old Navy and Athleta stores, while closing 200 Gap and Banana Republic stores. Additionally, Gap’s second-quarter fiscal 2017 marked its second straight earnings beat, and sales topped estimates for the fifth consecutive quarter. The company’s growth efforts and a solid first half encouraged management to raise fiscal 2017 earnings view. However, currency woes are likely to persist in fiscal 2017. It also expects high SG&A expenses in third quarter to impede results.”

Hasbro (NASDAQ:HAS) 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, “Hasbro’s earnings have topped the Zacks Consensus Estimate in all the past 10 quarters. Revenues too have been surpassing the consensus mark, except for the last quarter. Consistent efforts to establish its global presence via strategic partnerships and rapid growth in emerging markets should continue driving the top- and bottom–line performance. However, Hasbro’s shares have underperformed its industry year to date. Even so, this year’s rich content slate, new product launches, diverse initiatives to boost sales along with a favorable gaming portfolio should further drive growth ahead. Going forward, the Franchise and Partner Brands, particularly, are expected to perform consistently in 2017 given global digital content and innovative offerings. Yet, increased competition from alternative modes of entertainment might limit top-line growth, while high costs along with macroeconomic and currency headwinds may pressurize profits.”

IDEX Corporation (NYSE:IEX) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $138.00 target price 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 is currently striving to expand its businesses in the emerging markets by focusing on organic growth. The company has historically generated a healthy cash flow that allows management the opportunity to invest in product innovations, acquisitions and business development. IDEX outperformed the industry year to date. Management also raised its earlier guidance for 2017 on robust demand patterns and healthy growth dynamics. 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.”

Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings (NYSE:LH) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $173.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Over the last three months LabCorp has been trading above the broader industry. Moreover, the company exited the last reported quarter on a promising note. While Diagnostics business was strong, Covance Drug Development provided dull numbers. As per LabCorp, the impact of the cancellation by sponsors of two large clinical studies in late 2016 affected the results. This apart, an unfavorable foreign exchange continues to hamper overall result. Yet, an increased 2017 guidance boosted investors’ confidence indicating chances of respite anytime soon. We believe that with the integration of newer acquisitions, LabCorp is perfectly positioned to drive long-term profitable growth. We are also upbeat about the company's recent acqusition of Chiltern, a specialty CRO for an all-cash transaction valued at roughly $1.2 billion.”

Lincoln National Corporation (NYSE:LNC) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $81.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Over the last one year, Lincoln National’s shares have outperformed the industry.  The company is well positioned for long-term growth on the back of changes made in product and business mix. In order to shield itself from long-term claims variability, the company has been emphasizing on sale of Life products without long-term guarantees. It has also streamlined its business by axing unprofitable and non-core lines. The company’s Group Protection segment which was challenged earlier, has been recovering. The stock has witnessed an upward revision in the Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2017 over the past 60 days. However, increased expense driven by investment in technology will dent margins over the next many quarters. Declining cash flows are another cause of concern.”

Mettler-Toledo International (NYSE:MTD) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $711.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Mettler-Toledo is a worldwide analytical instruments provider. The company reported better-than-expected second-quarter 2017 results, surpassing the Zacks Consensus Estimate on earnings and revenues. The results were driven by strong growth across all product lines and regions. The company’s growth initiatives-Field Turbo investments, marketing initiatives, Spinnaker sales and new product launches – continued to deliver positive results. We remain positive about Mettler-Toledo’s leading market position, focus on product development and cost reduction, sales and marketing efforts and operational excellence programs. The company is expected to benefit from strong growth prospects in product inspection and services. However, seasonality, volatility in emerging market growth, foreign exchange risk and business concentration in China remain overhangs. Year to date, the stock has outperformed the industry it belongs.”

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (NYSE:MTU) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $7.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Shares of Mitsubishi UFJ have underperformed the industry on NYSE over the last six months. Though the negative interest rates in Japan and global growth concerns, along with strict regulations, remain headwinds, strong capital ratios and organic growth will likely support the company’s bottom-line growth. Also, the company’s prospects look encouraging, as it remains focused on several strategies under its medium-term business plan (2016–2018) and global expansion.”

Muenchener Rckvrrgs Gsllcht Mhn AG (NASDAQ:MURGY) was upgraded by analysts at Citigroup Inc. from a neutral rating to a buy rating.

Owens-Illinois (NYSE:OI) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $27.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Owens-Illinois' fiscal 2017 earnings per share guidance of $2.55-$2.65 reflect solid operating performance in the year so far and expectations of favorable currency translation and a lower tax rate. The mid-point of the range reflects a year–over-year growth of 12.6%.  The company’s focus on simplifying the organization, elevating productivity, expanding customer relationships, strategic initiatives and reducing the structural cost will drive long-term growth. It is also well positioned to benefit from acquisitions and joint ventures. The stock has outperformed the industry year to date. Its estimates have also gone up lately.”

Papa John’s International (NASDAQ:PZZA) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $82.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Papa John’s has been posting positive comps in both domestic and international markets over the past several quarters. Going forward, comps growth is likely to persist on the back of menu innovation and value offers. Its commitment to provide quality food is expected to continue appealing the health conscious customers. Increased focus on digital innovation may further aid in attracting customers and drive growth and efficiency. Strategic partnerships, large scale expansion plans and increased focus on franchising bode well too. However, higher costs, negative currency translation and a challenging sales environment in the U.S. restaurant space raises concern. Nevertheess its strong free cash flow position and willingness to return wealth to shareholders through buybacks and dividends raises confidence. Though Papa John’s shares have underperformed the industry in the last year, positive estimate revisions reflect analyst optimism.”

Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $120.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Red Hat is benefiting from strong deal win, improving recurring revenues and cross-selling of cloud-based technology. We believe that Amazon Web Services-OpenShift partnership extension reflects strength in Red Hat’s solutions and platform. The acquisition of Codenvy will boost its position in the hybrid cloud computing market. Further, the company has a strong customer as well as partner base that include the likes of IBM, Intel, Dell Technologies, Google cloud platform and Microsoft Azure. We note that the company has outperformed the industry on a year-to-date basis. However, intensifying competition, growing U.S. government exposure and foreign exchange volatility are some of the headwinds, in our view.”

Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $68.00 target price on the stock. According to Zacks, “Ross Stores has a positive record of earnings surprises in 12 of the trailing 13 quarters. In second-quarter fiscal 2017, both the top and bottom lines topped estimates and improved year over year. Results gained from solid top-line growth that was driven by broad-based growth across all merchandise categories and regions. Further, better-than-expected sales and operating profits at dd's DISCOUNTS aided results. Concluding first-half fiscal 2017 on a strong note, the company provided guidance for the second half and accordingly raised earnings view for fiscal 2017. Moreover, its solid financial status, ongoing merchandise initiatives and consistent focus on store expansion bode well. However, the company which has lagged the industry year to date, anticipates witnessing the most challenging year-ago comparisons in second-half fiscal 2017. It also expects facing a volatile retail backdrop.”

SLM Corporation (NASDAQ:SLM) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Shares of Sallie Mae have underperformed the industry over the past six months. Yet, the company has a decent earnings surprise history. It has surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings in two of the trailing four quarters. The company’s focus on strengthening its Private Education Loan assets and revenues along with maintaining a strong capital position bode well for the long term. Also, the economic recovery and declining unemployment rate should help it maintain its leading position in the student lending market. However, a competitive business environment and consistently increasing expenses remain near-term concerns. Further, Sallie Mae faces concentration risk due to over dependence on brokered deposits.”

S&P Global (NYSE:SPGI) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $175.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “S&P Global’s strategic portfolio restructuring initiatives and focus on core business are likely to drive future growth. The company’s Standard & Poor's Ratings Services appears to be a long-term growth driver as corporate and U.S. structured finance issuance is picking up momentum with increasing capital infusion in the economy as well as positive growth in M&A activity. This apart, strategic acquisitions and positive industry trends augur well for long-term growth. The acquisition of SNL Financial will enable global expansion on a greater scale especially within the banking and insurance sectors, while media and real estate areas are likely to emerge as new opportunities. The company outperformed the industry year to date. However, its performance is likely to be hurt by lower volume of debt securities issued in the capital markets.”

Student Transportation (NASDAQ:STB) (TSE:STB) was upgraded by analysts at National Bank Financial from a sector perform rating to an outperform rating.

Sierra Wireless (NASDAQ:SWIR) (TSE:SW) was upgraded by analysts at Howard Weil to a sector perform rating. Howard Weil currently has $23.00 price target on the stock. They noted that the move was a valuation call. The analysts noted that the move was a valuation call.

Teladoc (NYSE:TDOC) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a sell rating to a hold rating. According to Zacks, “Teladoc’s stock has outperformed the industry year to date. The company is seeing a steady growth in its business with insurers and customers increasingly embracing telehealth. The company also made some effort to grow inorganically a with a number of acquisitions made since its inception, which has expanded its distribution capabilities and broadened its service offering. The company is a leader in its sector and boasts of big clients. Its strong guidance for 2017 instills optimism. Nevertheless, Teladoc has incurred significant losses from past many years. Also, Teladoc has been unable to generate cash from operations and we have doubts over its ability to do so in the coming quarters.”

Torchmark Corporation (NYSE:TMK) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. They currently have $88.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Torchmark’s niche market focus, steady capital deployment and strong operating fundamentals should drive long-term growth. The life insurer estimates life and health sales growth in distribution channels. Also, a strong capital position and robust capital management are key positives. Torchmark now expects net operating income between $4.70 per share and $4.80 per share in 2017 banking on better than expected underwriting income and an increase in investment income, life underwriting income to increase between 2% and 4% while health underwriting income to increase between 1% and 3%. The company has also seen estimates moving north in the last 60 days. However, higher administrative expenses, pension costs and investments in IT systems will likely be a drag on Torchmark’s earnings in the near term. Shares of Torchmark also underperformed the industry year to date.”

Textron (NYSE:TXT) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. The firm currently has $59.00 price target on the stock. According to Zacks, “Textron's share outperformed the industry's rally in the last three months. Textron’s geographically diverse network of businesses negates any specific business risk. Its systematic inorganic growth strategy, along with its focus on strengthening international presence, will improve its growth trajectory. Also, Textron’s latest acquisition of Arctic Cat has boosted its position in the power-sports segment as well as utility vehicle market, courtesy of Arctic Cat’s established dealer network. The company’s Textron Aviation segment has been exhibiting weak performance due to lack of orders for a few of its products. Also Textron needs to invest substantially in order to sustain in a highly competitive market.”

Unum Group (NYSE:UNM) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks Investment Research from a hold rating to a buy rating. Zacks Investment Research currently has $56.00 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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