Analysts Say Spinoff Plan Makes Western Wireless More Attractive

Here are recent brokerage-house and investment-advisory opinions affecting Pacific Northwest stocks. The Seattle Times neither advises against nor recommends purchase of these stocks. Stock symbols and stock quotations are listed in parentheses, the latter reflecting prices when reports were issued. Ratings definitions vary, but most companies have five rankings, which are, from highest to lowest:

-- Strong buy, buy or highest.

-- Buy/accumulate, accumulate, mild buy, outperform, attractive or above average.

-- Neutral, hold, reasonably priced, average or market performer.

-- Mild sell, unattractive, below average or underperform.

-- Sell, lowest.

Western Wireless (WWCA, $20.25) reported a strong quarter, but more importantly said it was considering spinning off VoiceStream Wireless, its personal communications services unit, write Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette's Eric Weinstein and Dennis Leibowitz.

"A spinoff would not only rid the shares of any conglomerate discount and help get better value recognition for each of the core PCS and cellular businesses," the analysts wrote, "but presumably help each pursue different strategic agendas." They rate the Issaquah-based stock "buy." (Report issued Nov. 2)

Alaska Air (ALK, $37).

Analyst: Bob Toomey, Piper Jaffray.

Recommendation: Strong buy.

Comment: The airline operating environment has improved significantly. (11/5)

Cutter & Buck (CBUK, $22.375).

Analyst: Steven Weinstein, Pacific Crest Securities.

Recommendation: Strong buy.

Comment: New coverage. The golf-apparel maker will grow 30 percent a year for the next three to five years. (10/22)

Columbia Banking System (COLB, $19.625).

Analyst: Melba Bartels, Ragen MacKenzie.

Recommendation: Hold.

Comment: Profit forecast revised down because of declining growth, profit-margin pressure and more mundane credit quality. (11/4)

Immunex (IMNX, $68.563).

Analyst: Andrew Heyward, Ragen MacKenzie.

Recommendation: Accumulate.

Comment: Pent-up demand exists for Enbrel, but the market still has much to sort out. (11/3)

Expeditors Int. (EXPD, $34.125).

Analyst: Mary Fleckenstein, Ragen MacKenzie.

Recommendation: Accumulate.

Comment: Sales, operating-income growth rates decline, but are impressive nonetheless. (11/3)

Ride (RIDE, $1.125).

Analyst: Peter Jacobs, Ragen MacKenzie.

Recommendation: Hold.

Comment: Company makes a good bid to cut costs, but profits are one to two years away. (11/2)

Sonus Pharmaceuticals (SNUS, $11.50).

Analyst (1): Bob Toomey, Piper Jaffray.

Recommendation: Accumulate.

Comment: Rating upgraded from "hold." Positives pile up faster than expected. (11/10)

Analyst (2): Bruce Jacobs/Jonathan Osgood, BT Alex. Brown.

Recommendation: Market perform.

Comment: Regulators show the first sign in some time of wanting to work with Sonus. (11/5)

Analyst (3): Alex Zisson/Corey Davis, Hambrecht & Quist.

Recommendation: Hold.

Comment: Approval for EchoGen could come by April. (11/5)

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