Wall Street Research Still Screams “Buy”

Ever since New York AG Eliot Spitzer began his crusade to separate Wall Street’s research and investment banking divisions, investors have been told equity recommendations would become more valuable. No longer would most stocks be slapped with “buy” ratings (or the ridiculous 1999 favorite “strong buy” rating). Whereas a “sell” rating in the 1990’s could get an analyst fired, now such calls would become more common.

Well, you can throw all of that out the window. A.G. Edwards (AGE), a mid-sized investment bank, isn’t even known for its relatively small investment banking division, so one would think their research would be more “valuable” than some competitors. However, a glance at their current ratings distribution is quite disturbing.

AG’s research analyst team covers 689 companies. Of these, 70, or about 10% percent, have hired the company as an investment banker in the last 12 months. Astonishingly, only 17 of the 689 stocks covered had “sell” ratings as of August 8th. That’s only 2 percent! The natural follow-up question would be, “How many of those 17 negative recommendations are also one of the 70 investment banking clients?” The answer is “not a single one.”