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Upgrades & Downgrades: Exxon Isn't Oiling the Wheels of Capitalism


Wall Street ratings agencies set the tone for today's stock market.

When National Bank of Greece (NBG), which rose a lucky 13%, is the day's top NYSE stock, some cynics may say the good times are about to come to a shuddering halt, but for now at least let's celebrate an extremely impressive start to 2012 in equities. The Dow Average (^DJI), up 3.4% for its fourth straight monthly increase, and S&P 500 Index (^GSPC) each posted their best January since 1997. This even as shares slipped yesterday after the Case-Shiller home price index revealed real estate fell in 19 of 20 cities, Phoenix's advance of 0.6% the sole exception. Presumably that was what Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was politely pointing out to President Obama on the tarmac last week. (Hey, even Case and Shiller don't always see eye-to-eye.) Apple Inc (AAPL) closed at a record high of $456.48 in an outperforming Nasdaq (^IXIC), which was good enough for Jay Leno to taste one for the first time since 1984 - a vintage year for the firm of course - after some prompting from the First Lady. Victoria's Secret owner Limited Brands (LTD) rose 2.10%, although in this case Michelle Obama apparently had nothing to do with it. Her husband's Democrat predecessor in the Oval Office bailed out Mexico 17 years ago yesterday, yet with America broke and our southern neighbors home to the world's richest man and an unemployment rate we can only dream about, the cement shoes are now firmly on the other foot. Which is why Bank of America's upgrade of native son CEMEX S.A. (CX) seemed particularly well timed.

Mitt Romney, who wants Obama's job, won the Florida primary and, as Conan O'Brien so presciently predicted last June, he "credits the win to his grasp of the issues and the good people at Mattel (MAT), who built him." The toy-maker promptly surged 4.98%, in the process hitting its highest intra-day level since December 1998. Meanwhile Hologic (HOLX), based in the Bay State and a maker of X-ray machines, ended up 6.20% as voters search in vain for the former Massachusetts governor's core. Penthouse publisher FriendFinder (FFN) added 21.70% on top of Monday's 19.10% gain - say want you want about Jon Corzine, just don't say he's stoopid. And Spanish Broadcasting System (SBSA) slid 16.95% but it was a better day for an Amazon woman who has sent so many male hearts aflutter. Affectionately known as "Sofia Viagra", for the identical effect she has on men, the Colombian actress may be one reason why Pfizer (PFE), which produces the little blue pill, slipped 0.83% to a six-week low after announcing its profit fell 50%. This morning in economics, consensus calls for an increase in January's Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing Index at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Today's quarterly earnings announcements are expected to include AOL Corp (AOL), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Electronic Arts (EA), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), IAC/InterActiveCorp (IACI), Las Vegas Sands (LVS), Marathon Oil (MRO), Northrop Grumman (NOC), Qualcomm (QCOM), Roche, Tractor Supply (TSCO), and Whirlpool (WHR).


Blackstone (BX): The money manager is begun with a Buy at Deutsche Bank, sending shares sharply higher before the bell.

Jack In The Box (JACK): Lazard launches Buy rated coverage on the fast food firm.

SunCoke Energy (SXC): Shares are reinstated with an Outperform at Credit Suisse.

REITs: Cantor Fitzgerald assigns Buys on AvalonBay (AVB) and Associated Estates(AEC). It has Holds on Essex Property (ESS) and Equity Residential (EQR), and starts a Sell on Home Properties (HME).

Financial information: FactSet (FDS) is a fresh Outperform at Raymond James, which establishes a price objective of $100. Meanwhile MSCI Inc (MSCI) is a new Market Perform.


Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM): The agribusiness giant gets an Outperform-from-Market Perform upgrade at BMO Capital, sending shares higher ahead of the open.

AXA SA: The French insurance outfit is increased Outperform from Neutral by BNP Paribas.

Financials: Citigroup (C) and First Horizon (FHN) are each moved to Outperform from Market Perform with Wells Fargo.

Home Properties (HME): Keefe Bruyette hoists HME to Market Perform from Underperform.

Subsea 7 SA: Shares are now Neutral from Underweight at JP Morgan.

Seagate Technology (STX): The stock is taken to Buy from Hold with a target price of $35 at Stifel Nicolaus, which cites strong earnings guidance and benefits from its Samsung acquisition.


Exxon Mobil (XOM): The Dow component is downgraded to Hold from Buy at Argus as a 'gassier' production mix is seen as a negative in the current environment.

Applied Micro Circuits (AMCC): Shares are moved to Perform from Outperform at Oppenheimer, which notes the company has spent almost $50 million thus far developing X-Gene, and $100 million in additional outlays may be needed before the product sees its first revenue in early 2014.

Banco Santander (STD): The Spanish bank gets slashed to Sell from Neutral at Goldman Sachs.

Becton Dickinson (BDX): Crédit Agricole cuts BDX to Outperform from Buy.

Broadcom (BRCM): BRCM is taken to Hold from Buy at Auriga.

CGGVeritas (CGV): JP Morgan moves the company to Underweight from Neutral.

Financials: T. Rowe Price (TROW) is downgraded to Sell from Neutral at Citigroup, sending shares lower in pre market trading, while Waddell & Reed (WDR) gets an identical ratings reduction.

Eagle Materials (EXP): EXP is downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies.

Equity One Residential (EQR): Bank of America-Merrill Lynch lowers its recommendation to Underperform from Neutral.

Mattel (MAT): Shares are downgraded to Hold from Buy at Stifel Nicolaus, among others, due to valuation issues after yesterday's steep increase.

Repsol SA: The European energy giant gets cut to Hold from Buy at Collins Stewart.

Sunoco (SUN): Shares are slashed to Equal Weight from Overweight by Barclays.

Stryker (SKY): The medical device maker is moved to Market Perform from Outperform at BMO Capital.
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