S&P Cuts Sports Authority to Hold

Also: analysts' opinions on Toys R Us and FedEx. Plus more

Sports Authority (TSA ): Downgrades to 3 STARS (hold) from 2 STARS (avoid)

Analyst: Mark Basham

The weak August sales outlook from Wal-Mart is weighing on retailers in general. We think Sports Authority, as the most leveraged of the major sporting-goods retailers, is particularly vulnerable. We think prolonged weaker-than-expected retail sales trends could cause its ongoing store remodeling program to be delayed and to cost more. Also, with 45 stores in Florida, Hurricane Charley could especially weigh in the October quarter. We're lowering our fiscal 2005 (Jan.) earnings per share estimate to $1.45 from $2.10, and fiscal 2006's to $1.85 from $2.70. Our discounted-cash-flow-based 12-month target price falls from $29 to $17.

Toys R Us (TOY ): Maintains 3 STARS (hold)

Analyst: Yogeesh Wagle

Toys R Us posted July-quarter earnings per share of 28 cents, vs. a loss of 5 cents, after a $200 million tax reserve reversal, above our 1-cent loss estimate. Sales shrank 3.9% as Kids R Us store closings and a 7.7% comparable-store sales drop in U.S. toy operations outweighed gains at the Babies R Us and international divisions. With the company considering the possible sale of its toy business, as well as a spin-off of Babies R Us, and poised, in our view, for a more profitable holiday season, we see merit in holding the retailer. Our 12-month target price is $18.

FedEx (FDX ): Maintains 5 STARS (buy)

Analyst: James Corridore

FedEx says it sees August-quarter EPS of $1.00 to $1.10, up from the previous guidance of 90 cents to $1.00. It sees $4.40 to $4.60 for fiscal 2005 (May), vs. the previous guidance of $4.20 to $4.40. The package-delivery company says it's seeing strong demand for international express, ground and less-than-truckload trucking services. We're raising our fiscal 2005 EPS estimate to $4.55 from $4.35, but keeping our fiscal 2006 estimate at $5.15, above the Street's $4.93 view. Our 12-month target price remains $106, valuing FedEx at 23 times our 2005 estimate and and 21 times our 2006 EPS estimates. This means shares trade at a discount to United Parcel and in the middle of FedEx's historic p-e range.

Verizon Communications (VZ ): Maintains 5 STARS (buy)

Analyst: Todd Rosenbluth

As expected, the FCC released short-term rules that freeze the wholesale rates that regional bell operating carriers charge competitors for six months. We're skeptical that permanent rules can be agreed upon, given the uncertain tenure of the commissioners. With the absence of new rules, rates will rise 15% for existing wholesale customers and even higher for new customers, regardless of market impairment. We view the FCC ruling as positive for the RBOCs but we still see challenges by cable and wireless concerns. We see Verizon as having the best earnings prospects of the RBOCs, given its wireless and expense control.

Cisco Systems (CSCO ): Accumulate 4 STARS (accumulate)

Analyst: Megan Graham-Hackett

Market research firm the Dell-Oro Group released second-quarter 2004 market share figures, which showed Cisco ceded share back to Juniper Networks in the low and mid-range router market, but gained in the high end. Cisco mostly held its market share steady in the Layer 2 and 3 switched ethernet market, but its share was squeezed in the significantly smaller Layer 4 through Layer 7 market. Dell-Oro overall is looking for 18% growth in ethernet switches in 2004 and 9% growth in routers. With few surprises in report, we're keeping our Cisco 12-month target price of $25, based on discounted cash-flow analysis.