The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights:Valero Energy, ConocoPhillips, Hess, Marathon Oil and Conn's

    The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights:Valero Energy, ConocoPhillips, Hess,
                           Marathon Oil and Conn's

PR Newswire

CHICAGO, April 9, 2013

CHICAGO, April 9, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --Zacks.com announces the list of stocks
featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts
discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets.
Stocks recently featured in the blog include Valero Energy Corporation
(NYSE:VLO), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), Hess Corporation (NYSE:HES), Marathon
Oil Corporation (NYSE:MRO) and Conn's, Inc. (Nasdaq:CONN).

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Here are highlights from Monday's Analyst Blog:

Valero Spins Off Retail Unit

U.S. refining company Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE:VLO) announced that it
has received an approval from its board of directors with respect to the
spin-off of its retail business, CST Brands, Inc.

The distribution of 80% of outstanding CST shares to Valero shareholders is
expected to take place on May 1, 2013 in a tax-free transaction. The remaining
20% of CST will be held by Valero for six months, after which it will
contemplate on farming-out based on market conditions.

Valero shareholders will receive one share of CST Brands common stock for
every nine shares of Valero common stock held as of the record date of Apr 19,
2013. The fractional shares of CST Brands common stock will not be
distributed. However, the distribution agent will aggregate fractional shares
into whole shares and sell the whole shares in the open market at current
rates.

The net cash proceeds will be distributed on a pro rata basis to each
shareholder, who would otherwise have been entitled to receive fractional
shares. Last year, Valero had proposed to search for alternatives for the
gasoline and convenience stores it owns in the United States and Canada,
including the spin-off of its retail unit.

Valero remains on track with its strategy of boosting its shareholders' value,
much like ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), Hess Corporation (NYSE:HES) and Marathon
Oil Corporation (NYSE:MRO).

Valero is the largest independent refiner and marketer of petroleum products
in the U.S. It has a refining capacity of 2.8 million barrels per day across
14 refineries located throughout the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. Valero is
also a leading ethanol producer with 10 ethanol plants in the Midwest that
have a combined capacity of 1.2 billion gallons per year. Valero organizes its
business into three reportable segments — Refining, Ethanol and Retail.

Valero holds a Zacks Rank #3, which is equivalent to a short-term Hold rating.

Conn's Upgraded to Strong Buy

On Apr 6, 2013, Zacks Investment Research upgraded Conn's, Inc. (Nasdaq:CONN)
to a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). Shares of this specialty retailer of home
appliances, furniture, mattresses and consumer electronics have amassed an
impressive year-to-date return of 43.7%.

Why the Upgrade?

Conn's has been witnessing rising earnings estimates owing to impressive
fourth-quarter fiscal 2013 results, on the back of strong comparable-store
sales momentum, the pricing power, margin improvement and unit remodeling. The
company declared strong results on Apr 3, 2013, wherein earnings of 54 cents a
share came in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate but surged 58.8% from 34
cents earned in the year-ago quarter.

This durable consumer goods retailer has outperformed the Zacks Consensus
Estimate in 4 out of last 5 quarters and met in one, resulting in an average
beat of 13.4%. The long-term expected earnings growth rate for the stock is
15%.

Conn's total revenue grew 10.4% to $250.3 million in the quarter from $226.7
million in the year-ago period, and came ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate
of $249 million. Comparable-store sales for the quarter climbed
7%.

Revenue from the retail segment increased 9.7% to $208.7 million, whereas
retail gross margin expanded 720 basis points to 36.9%. On the other hand,
credit card segment revenue soared 14.5% to $41.6 million.

Buoyed by healthy results, management now projects fiscal 2014 earnings
between $2.40 and $2.50 with expected comparable-store sales growth of 3% to
8%.

The Zacks Consensus Estimates for the first and second quarters of fiscal 2014
rose 11.9% and 8.2% to 47 cents and 53 cents, respectively, in the last 7
days. For fiscal 2014, the Zacks Consensus Estimate rose 17.8% to $2.45 per
share over the same time frame.

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