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Shares of Air transport services (ATSG) have gained 11% over the past four weeks to close the last trading session at $30.79, but there could still be a solid upside for the stock if analysts’ short-term price targets of Wall Street are an indication of this. According to the price targets, the average estimate of $39 indicates an upside potential of 26.7%.

The average estimate includes three short-term price targets with a standard deviation of $1.73. While the lower estimate of $37 points to a 20.2% increase from the current price level, the most optimistic analyst expects the stock to jump 29.9% to reach $40. It is very important to note the standard deviation here, as it helps to understand the variability of the estimates. The smaller the standard deviation, the greater the agreement between analysts.

While the consensus price target is highly sought after by investors, the ability and fairness of analysts to set price targets has long been questionable. And investors making investment decisions solely based on this tool would undoubtedly be doing themselves a disservice.

But, for ATSG, an impressive average price target is not the only indicator of upside potential. A strong consensus among analysts on the company’s ability to report better earnings than they had predicted earlier reinforces this view. Although a positive trend in earnings estimate revisions does not gauge how much a stock might gain, it has proven powerful in predicting upside.

Here’s what you need to know about analyst price targets

According to researchers at several universities around the world, a price target is one of many pieces of information about a stock that misleads investors far more often than it guides them. In fact, empirical research shows that the price targets set by many analysts, regardless of the degree of agreement, rarely indicate where a stock’s price might actually be headed.

While Wall Street analysts have a deep understanding of a company’s fundamentals and how sensitive its business is to economic and industry issues, many of them tend to set price targets that are overly optimistic. You wonder why ?

They typically do this to generate interest in the stocks of companies that their companies have existing business relationships with or are seeking to partner with. In other words, trading incentives from companies covering a stock often result in inflated price targets set by analysts.

However, a tight grouping of price targets, which is represented by a low standard deviation, indicates that analysts have a high degree of agreement on the direction and magnitude of a stock’s price movement. Although this does not necessarily mean that the stock will reach the average price target, it could be a good starting point for further research aimed at identifying potential fundamental driving forces.

That said, while investors shouldn’t ignore price targets entirely, making an investment decision based solely on them could result in a disappointing return on investment. Thus, price targets should always be treated with a high degree of skepticism.

Here’s why there could be a lot of benefits in the ATSG

There has been growing optimism among analysts lately about the company’s earnings outlook, as indicated by the strong agreement among them to revise EPS estimates upwards. And that could be a legitimate reason to expect the stock to rise. After all, empirical research shows a strong correlation between trends in earnings estimate revisions and short-term stock price movements.

Over the past 30 days, the Zacks consensus estimate for the current year has risen 1.6% as an estimate has risen relative to no negative revision.

Additionally, ATSG currently has a Zacks #2 (buy) rating, meaning it is in the top 20% of over 4,000 stocks we rank based on four factors related to earnings estimates. Given an impressive externally audited track record, this is a more conclusive indication of the stock’s upside potential in the near term. You can see the full list of today’s Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) stocks here >>>>

Therefore, while the consensus price target may not be a reliable indicator of what the ATSG might gain, the direction of price movement it implies seems to be a good guide.

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