Brokers Suggest Investing in American Tower (AMT): Read This Before Placing a Bet

When deciding whether to buy, sell, or hold a stock, investors often rely on analyst recommendations. Media reports about rating changes by these brokerage-firm-employed (or sell-side) analysts often influence a stock's price, but are they really important?

Before we discuss the reliability of brokerage recommendations and how to use them to your advantage, let's see what these Wall Street heavyweights think about American Tower (AMT).

American Tower currently has an average brokerage recommendation (ABR) of 1.45, on a scale of 1 to 5 (Strong Buy to Strong Sell), calculated based on the actual recommendations (Buy, Hold, Sell, etc.) made by 20 brokerage firms. An ABR of 1.45 approximates between Strong Buy and Buy.

Of the 20 recommendations that derive the current ABR, 15 are Strong Buy and one is Buy. Strong Buy and Buy respectively account for 75% and 5% of all recommendations.

Brokerage Recommendation Trends for AMT

Broker Rating Breakdown Chart for AMT

Check price target & stock forecast for American Tower here>>>

The ABR suggests buying American Tower, but making an investment decision solely on the basis of this information might not be a good idea. According to several studies, brokerage recommendations have little to no success guiding investors to choose stocks with the most potential for price appreciation.

Do you wonder why? As a result of the vested interest of brokerage firms in a stock they cover, their analysts tend to rate it with a strong positive bias. According to our research, brokerage firms assign five "Strong Buy" recommendations for every "Strong Sell" recommendation.

In other words, their interests aren't always aligned with retail investors, rarely indicating where the price of a stock could actually be heading. Therefore, the best use of this information could be validating your own research or an indicator that has proven to be highly successful in predicting a stock's price movement.

With an impressive externally audited track record, our proprietary stock rating tool, the Zacks Rank, which classifies stocks into five groups, ranging from Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) to Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell), is a reliable indicator of a stock's near -term price performance. So, validating the Zacks Rank with ABR could go a long way in making a profitable investment decision.

Zacks Rank Should Not Be Confused With ABR

Although both Zacks Rank and ABR are displayed in a range of 1-5, they are different measures altogether.

The ABR is calculated solely based on brokerage recommendations and is typically displayed with decimals (example: 1.28). In contrast, the Zacks Rank is a quantitative model allowing investors to harness the power of earnings estimate revisions. It is displayed in whole numbers -- 1 to 5.

Analysts employed by brokerage firms have been and continue to be overly optimistic with their recommendations. Since the ratings issued by these analysts are more favorable than their research would support because of the vested interest of their employers, they mislead investors far more often than they guide.

In contrast, the Zacks Rank is driven by earnings estimate revisions. And near-term stock price movements are strongly correlated with trends in earnings estimate revisions, according to empirical research.

Furthermore, the different grades of the Zacks Rank are applied proportionately across all stocks for which brokerage analysts provide earnings estimates for the current year. In other words, at all times, this tool maintains a balance among the five ranks it assigns.

Another key difference between the ABR and Zacks Rank is freshness. The ABR is not necessarily up-to-date when you look at it. But, since brokerage analysts keep revising their earnings estimates to account for a company's changing business trends, and their actions get reflected in the Zacks Rank quickly enough, it is always timely in indicating future price movements.

Is AMT Worth Investing In?

Looking at the earnings estimate revisions for American Tower, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for the current year has increased 0.2% over the past month to $10.35.

Analysts' growing optimism over the company's earnings prospects, as indicated by strong agreement among them in revising EPS estimates higher, could be a legitimate reason for the stock to soar in the near term.

The size of the recent change in the consensus estimate, along with three other factors related to earnings estimates, has resulted in a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) for American Tower. You can see the complete list of today's Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) stocks here >>>>

Therefore, the Buy-equivalent ABR for American Tower may serve as a useful guide for investors.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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