Barclays ups Blue Apron with 'stabilization' seen in reach

Shares of Blue Apron (APRN) got a boost in morning trading after shares were upgraded by an analyst at Barclays, highlighting the promotion of Brad Dickerson to the meal-kit delivery company's chief executive officer as a positive. The upgrade comes after shares were downgraded last week at RBC Capital, which cited the management change as implying less visibility into the company's fundamentals. 'STABILIZATION POINT': Barclays analyst Ross Sandler this morning upgraded Blue Apron to Equal Weight from Underweight and raised his price target for shares to $4 from $3. In a note to clients, Sandler said the meal-kit delivery service could be reaching a "stabilization point" given the stock's disappointing performance since the company last reported earnings on November 2. Sandler views the promotion of Brad Dickerson to CEO as "positive," given his experience and operational background. Dickerson previously served as Blue Apron's chief financial officer since he joined the company in February 2016. The company said on November 30 that he would replace co-founder CEO Matt Salzberg as president and CEO, effective February 2018. Salzberg will continue to serve as chairman and Blue Apron has started a search for a new CFO, it said. Blue Apron mentioned in the press release that on-time, in-full rates in the Linden facility are at parity with the other warehouses, improved from just four weeks back, and that margins are up significantly in the fourth quarter from the prior one, Sandler noted. However, the analyst cautioned that HelloFresh, a competitor to Blue Apron controlled by Rocket Internet (RCKZF), continues to take market share in the U.S., "filling the void left behind" from Blue Apron's marketing cuts, and noted that the competitive environment is likely to remain challenging even if Blue Apron can get its warehouse operations on track next year. Additionally, Sandler said Amazon (AMZN) is likely to continue to increase its efforts in meal kits. RBC LESS OPTIMISTIC ON MANAGEMENT CHANGES: Sandler's comments follow less optimistic comments from RBC Capital analyst Mark Mahaney on Friday. Mahaney, who downgraded Blue Apron shares to Sector Perform from Outperform and lowered his price target to $4 from $6, said that while he had been "arguably overly patient with the company," the management change implies less visibility and certainty into the company's fundamentals. WHAT'S NOTABLE: In conjunction with the CEO announcement, outgoing CEO Salzberg said on November 30 that margins have "significantly improved" since the end of Q3 and the company has made "meaningful progress" toward top company priorities. In addition to the management shuffle, Blue Apron has opened a new food distribution center in Linden, New Jersey, and debuted more flexible menu options for customers. Co-founder Matt Wadiak left his role as chief operating officer in July. Blue Apron announced plans to cut 6% of its total workforce in October. PRICE ACTION: In morning trading, Blue Apron is up over 21% to $3.92.

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