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Merrill Upgrades Grainger to 'Buy'

Merrill Lynch upgraded W. W. Grainger (GWW) to buy from neutral.

Analyst Joseph Foley says the maintenance company's revised lower forecast helps clear out the overhang on the stock. He says Grainger has significantly lagged the performance of its industrial peers and the market over the last few months, which is at least partly due to the previous perception that sales and earnings expectations were too high.

Foley calls the company a high-quality play in an industrial recovery with essentially no debt, no off-balance sheet items, and no pension plan. He says Grainger is more leveraged operationally, in terms of sales and employees, to realize significant bottom-line growth. Foley sees $2.52 2003 earnings per share, and $2.85 for 2004. He has a $54 target.

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