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Upgrades & Downgrades: MEMC's Prospects Wafer Thin?

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Maybe the experts know something we don't know.

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A constructive FOMC statement on interest rates sent the Dow up a sixth straight session, its best streak of 2010. Markets had earlier shrugged off disappointing data for February housing starts which were blamed on the usual suspects of snow and sleet. An excuse which may not fully explain the 15.6% plunge seen in the sultry South, and one which certainly cuts no ice with Canada's finance minister who spent last month fending off attacking igloos. Los Angeles experienced a 4.4 magnitude earthquake, known out west as a "tea stirrer", but coffee provided a bigger jolt as Starbucks (SBUX) milked an upgrade to end up 3.56% at a fresh 52-week peak.

Elsewhere, Ediets.com (DIET) lost 2.78% on one woman's ill advised attempt to become the world's weightiest. (Not for nothing is our planet's most prosperous individual named Slim.) Michael Jackson earned a cool quarter billion from beyond the grave and BioTime (BTIM) was bid up 27.93% as investors bet big on the elixir of youth. Both developments were bad news for Rock of Ages (ROAC), the granite tombstone titan tumbling 8.79%. This morning's St. Patrick's Day newspapers inform us of Tiger's attempts to swap straitjacket for Green Jacket, an announcement curiously coincidental with Nike's (NKE) earnings report this afternoon. Other companies expected to report results include Actuant (ATU), BMW, China Sky One Medical (CSKI), Guess (GES), Herman Miller (MLHR), and IHS Inc (HIS).

Initiations

Broadcom (BRCM): The tech stock is initiated with a Hold at Auriga, which assigns a price objective of $32. While the broker believes wireless will be a good growth opportunity through 2011, there remains ample risk to design wins given the competitive nature of this segment. See also What the Government's Broadband Plan Means for the Economy.

REITs: Cowen starts several REITs. AvalonBay (AVB) and Camden Property (CPT) are new Neutrals, Equity Residential (EQR) and Essex Property (ESS) are each Outperfrom while Post Properties (PPS) is among the Underperforms.

MEMC Electronics (WFR): The stock is initiated with a Hold and $15 price target at Wunderlich as the broker believes the semiconductor and solar materials space is under competitive pricing pressure.

Upgrades

Athenahealth (ATHN): Deutsche Bank boosts Athenahealth to Buy from Hold.

Blackrock (BLK): The stock is upgraded to Outperform from Neutral by Credit Suisse.

Jack in the Box (JACK): The fast food chain gets a Buy-from-Neutral increase at Goldman Sachs.

Greenhill & Co (GHL): Keefe Bruyette raises its rating on Greenhill & Co to Outperform from Market Perform.

Autodesk (ADSK): The stock is added to the Conviction Buy list at Goldman Sachs.

AnnTaylor (ANN): The retailer is upgraded to Neutral from Underperform by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. For more on the sector, see Aeropostale, Buckle Shine in Dreary Retail Sector.

Jacobs Engineering (JEC): The stock is removed from Goldman's Conviction Sell list.

Lincoln National (LNC): Lincoln gets a Buy-from-Neutral boost by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.

Adobe Systems (ADBE): Brigantine raises its rating on Adobe Systems to Buy from Hold with a $42 target. See also Why Apple Wants to Kill Adobe.

NGAS Resources (NGAS): Small cap stock NGAS Resources is up sharply ahead of the open after being boosted to Buy from Hold at Wunderlich, which thinks its acreage position, production, and reserves are significantly undervalued.

Downgrades

Mining Stocks: Mining giants BHP Billiton (BHP) and Rio Tinto (RTP) are each reduced to Hold from Buy at Societe Generale, which cites a less attractive valuation and fading momentum from negotiations over iron ore pricing.

Alcatel Lucent (ALU): Also overseas, Alcatel-Lucent gets a Neutral-from-Buy cut at Goldman Sachs, which views the company's "long-term ability to generate cash as uncertain given aggressive competition in legacy products from Chinese vendors."

Diamond Offshore (DO): Credit Suisse cuts Diamond Offshore, now Underperform from Neutral with its price target taken to $79 from $86.

Citrix Systems (CTXS): Goldman Sachs downgrades Citrix Systems to Neutral from Buy.

China Southern Air (ZNH): Goldman also lowers China Southern Air to Neutral from Buy.

Shire Plc (SHPGY): Citigroup slashes Shire Plc all the way to Sell from Buy.

LM Ericsson (ERIC): The stock is lowered to Underperform from Neutral by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.

Tech Stocks: Goldman cuts both CommVault (CVLT) and Cummins (CMI) from its list of Conviction Buys.

Tractor Supply (TSCO): The stock is downgraded to Underperform from Market Perform at FBR Capital.

Genworth Financial (GNW): Shares of Genworth Financial are trading lower before the bell on the back of a downgrade to Neutral from Buy at Bank of America/Merrill.

EnCana Corp (ECA): The stock gets a Neutral-from-Outperform cut at Macquarie.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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