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“You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out,” Warren Buffett wrote in a 2001 letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) stockholders. That’s wildly inaccurate beach advice. However, taken as financial advice, it’s the sort of vague gem that always seems to apply to the crisis of the moment. It’s timeless.
Recommendations to buy particular stocks don’t last nearly as long. Investors who follow t
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he advice of Wall Street analysts should always check the date. Dozens of studies of analyst recommendations published over the past two decades point to two broad findings. First, stocks with heaps of “buy” recommendations attached to them tend to perform no better than other stocks. Second, stocks with recent, positive changes in analyst opinions—to “buy” from “hold,” for example—tend to outperform the broad market over the following year. The difference is timing. Five “buy” recommendations issued a year ago hold less predictive power than one issued yesterday because factors like price/earnings ratios, sales growth rates and economic trends can change sharply in a year.
At least one analyst covering each of the three stocks below changed his or her published recommendation to “buy” (or “outperform”) this week.
Alaska Air
Upgraded to Buy from Hold Sept. 22 Helane Becker, Jesup & Lamont

Alaska Air Group (ALK) flies passengers to almost as many cities in California as in Alaska (and has its corporate headquarters in Seattle). Its sales are forecast to decline 10% this year. That’s not so bad when compared with giant airlines like American and United, whose corporate parents are expected to suffer 2009 sales declines of 17% and 21%, respectively. On Tuesday, Alaska Air lowered its third-quarter estimate for fuel costs and said some key sales measures (sales per passenger and per seat/mile) improved in August from July. A new baggage fee helped. Helane Becker of Jesup & Lamont upgraded the stock, citing valuation in a Tuesday note. Shares sell for less than 12 times the 2009 earnings consensus.
Upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform Sept. 22Adrienne Tennant, FBR Capital Markets
Just over a year ago this column recommended  shares of Gymboree (GYMB) as a safe haven in stormy markets. They’re up 27%, vs. a 13% decline for the broad-market S&P 500 index. Once a play center and now a kids’ clothier, Gymboree is increasing its sales this year, unlike competitors The Children’s Place (PLCE) and Gap (GPS). In a Tuesday investor note recommending the stock, Adrienne Tennant of FBR Capital Markets wrote that the company is gaining market share because of “compelling” products, that potential exists for sustained sales improvements at longstanding stores and that the stock is still cheap. It trades at 15 times earnings.
Dish Network
Upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform Sept. 22Marci Ryvicker, Wells Fargo Securities

Dish Network (DISH) offers satellite television service that competes with cable and with the satellite service of Direct TV (DTV). Because cable companies sell bundled television, telephone and Internet service, satellite companies must pair with telephone companies to compete. AT&T (T) dumped Dish for DTV earlier this year, so although DTV is expected to increase its sales by 9% this year, Dish’s sales are forecast to rise less than 1%. Perhaps that difference is more than reflected in the two stock prices, though. DTV sells for 19 times earnings and Dish just 10 times earnings. In a Tuesday upgrade note, Marci Ryvicker of Wells Fargo Securities wrote that Wall Street’s expectations for the company are too low and that the share price should rise as the economy pulls out of recession.
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Somali pirates hijacked an Italian ship as the dramatic standoff between the US Navy and four other sea bandits holding an American hostage in a lifeboat drifted into its fourth day
A small part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan is dramatically impacting the municipal bond market, sparing investors from a glut of new issues and low prices.

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Four Somali pirates in a lifeboat continued to face down a US navy warship on Friday having recaptured the American captain they are holding hostage after he reportedly tried to escape by jumping overboard