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CNO Financial, Stone Energy Corp, Google, Apple and Amazon highlighted as Zacks Bull and Bear of the Day

CHICAGO, Jan. 18, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks Equity Research highlights CNO Financial (NYSE:CNO) as the Bull of the Day and Stone Energy Corp (NYSE: SGY) as the Bear of the Day. In addition, Zacks Equity Research provides analysis ontheGoogle Inc. (GOOG), Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN).

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Here is a synopsis of all five stocks:

Bull of the Day:

We are upgrading our recommendation on CNO Financial (CNO) to Outperform based on the hike in its buyback program and prospects of significant capital deployment in 2013. The latest recapitalization plan has also improved the capital structure and debt maturity profile. It is also expected to augment the bottom line and ROE.

However, high financial leverage and constantly deteriorating Bankers Life segment results are the downsides. The company's third-quarter earnings surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate and the year-ago numbers on the back of favorable trends in annuity spreads, improved top line and benefit ratios and better investment results.

Improved credit ratings, strong investment portfolio and declining expenses are the other positives. Although underwriting and pricing challenges remain primary concerns, increasing new business volume and cost containment measures are expected to support the bottom line in the long run.

Bear of the Day:

We are downgrading our recommendation on Stone Energy Corp (SGY) to Underperform from Neutral. The company missed our expectation in the third quarter of 2012 and its quarterly earnings also plunged 54.7% from the year-earlier profit level, mainly due to lower price realization and higher operating expenses.

The spiraling lease operating expenses added to Stone Energy's woes due to high seasonal maintenance costs and the effects of Hurricane Isaac. Again, its results are heavily dependent on growth visibility at its onshore properties as well as the outcome of various deepwater exploration prospects.

Given these headwinds, we expect the shares of Stone Energy to be under pressure in the near future. Our $19 price objective reflects a 2013 P/E multiple of 9.2x.

Additional content:

Google Challenges iTunes

Google Inc. (GOOG) has introduced a music service that allows customers to buy songs from the Android Market. The service is expected to compete directly with its rival Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iTune services.

Google has now entered into partnerships with roughly 1000 record companies and thus can offer 13 million songs. Free storage and streaming of 20,000 songs on Google Music remain as part of the original service. In addition, Google will feature reviews, band information and exclusive content from artists. It will also allow the artists to design their own pages, which will feature their videos, biographies and self-published music for a one-time fee of $25.

Google has been improving its music service in the last few months. Recently, Google Music came out with a new scan and match feature to better compete with its rivals. The feature allowed a user's music to be matched in the cloud so that songs could be played on any authorized device. The service enables users to upload their music to the cloud from their respective files.

The storage of music in the cloud is growing in popularity, with iTunes offering space for 25,000 songs, Google 20,000 songs and Amazon (AMZN) through its own service called Cloud Player 250,000.

According to the market research company, NPD Group, Apple accounted for 64.0% of U.S. online music sales in the second quarter, followed by Amazon at 16.0%. Google notched a mere 5.0% share and other services made up the rest. While Google remains far behind, its free service for the broadest selection could gather momentum.

According to the market research company, IDC, Android shipments touched 136.0 million units in the third quarter of fiscal 2012, which is 75.0% of overall shipments and was followed by Apple's iOS that accounted for 15.0%. Google is dominating the OS space.

Google's rapid expansion into music, television, movies, consumer items (rice cookers, refrigerators, cameras) is an attempt to attract more users to Android. It is also going all out to break Apple's dominance in online music.

In the third quarter of fiscal 2012, Google's gross revenue (including TAC) touched a record $14.10 billion, representing sequential and year-over-year increases of 28.6% and 45.1%, respectively.

Total revenue, excluding total traffic acquisition costs, came in at $11.34 billion, 4.4% lower than the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $11.86 billion.

Google, Amazon and Apple all have a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

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About the Bull and Bear of the Day

Every day, the analysts at Zacks Equity Research select two stocks that are likely to outperform (Bull) or underperform (Bear) the markets over the next 3-6 months.

About the Analyst Blog

Updated throughout every trading day, the Analyst Blog provides analysis from Zacks Equity Research about the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets.

About Zacks Equity Research

Zacks Equity Research provides the best of quantitative and qualitative analysis to help investors know what stocks to buy and which to sell for the long-term.

Continuous analyst coverage is provided for a universe of 1,150 publicly traded stocks. Our analysts are organized by industry which gives them keen insights to developments that affect company profits and stock performance. Recommendations and target prices are six-month time horizons.

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Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Inherent in any investment is the potential for loss. This material is being provided for informational purposes only and nothing herein constitutes investment, legal, accounting or tax advice, or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold a security. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. It should not be assumed that any investments in securities, companies, sectors or markets identified and described were or will be profitable. All information is current as of the date of herein and is subject to change without notice. Any views or opinions expressed may not reflect those of the firm as a whole. Zacks Investment Research does not engage in investment banking, market making or asset management activities of any securities. These returns are from hypothetical portfolios consisting of stocks with Zacks Rank = 1 that were rebalanced monthly with zero transaction costs. These are not the returns of actual portfolios of stocks. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index. Visit http://www.zacks.com/performance for information about the performance numbers displayed in this press release.

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