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Stock Downgrades: A-Z of Agony for AstraZeneca

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

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An old joke, a propos of the organization that ensures there is healthy competition in British business, goes like this: "Why is there only one Monopolies and Mergers Commission?" (English boardroom humor; you really have to be there.) AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) has now been spared what would have been a grueling grilling before the commission, this after the pharmaceutical firm rejected a "final" 55-pound sterling offer for it from Pfizer (NYSE:PFE). AstraZeneca shares are tumbling about 10% in today's London trading as a result of the spurned bid and a rating reduction by an equity analyst who does not hold out hope of a rival offer materializing.
 
In case you missed it, a powerful woman in Manhattan media circles, educated at New York's prestigious Ethical Culture Fieldston School, bid us goodbye last week. But enough about Jill Abramson. Rather, I refer to Barbara Walters. The legendary interviewer was born on September 25, 1929 -- the very last month of normalcy before the walls caved in on Wall Street and the wider world. Now we see uneasy echoes of, if not that calamitous Crash, then certainly its close cousin of 1987. From a Tepper tantrum to Wreck-It Ralph, market angst is suddenly all around us. Even Stamford Connecticut is suddenly losing money, with its disowned hometown hero World Wrestling Entertainment (NASDAQ:WWE) skidding some 35%. Investors will look to a merger Monday for relief, with Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI) member AT&T (NYSE:T) buying DirecTV (NASDAQ:DTV) to create a million more pay-TV offerings no one will watch. In 1992 Springsteen sung of "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" but there -- as elsewhere -- inflation has rendered such a statistic positively quaint.
 
There aren't any top-tier economic reports due today, but Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB), Hertz (NYSE:HTZ), Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ:URBN), and Valspar (NYSE:VAL) are all due to release quarterly earnings.
 
Now let's look at this morning's rating reductions, an eclectic bunch that features a munitions maker plus headline stock AstraZeneca.

Alliant Techsystems (NYSE:ATK): The arms maker gets downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Goldman Sachs.
 
Altria Group (NYSE:MO): Shares in the tobacco titan are taken to Market Perform from Outperform with Wells Fargo.
 
AstraZeneca: Today's headline equity is lowered by both Leerink (Market Perform from Outperform) and Pamure (Hold from Buy).
 
CenturyLink (NYSE:CTL): Morgan Stanley moves the stock to Equal Weight from Overweight.
 
Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB): The German giant gets downgraded to Underperform from Neutral by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
 
DIRECTV: Shares, no longer trading on fundamentals after being bought by A&T Inc., are now Neutral from Overweight at Atlantic Equities.
 
Ensco (NYSE:ESV): Jefferies cuts the company to Hold from Buy.
 
Genworth Financial (NYSE:GNW): Morgan Stanley moves the insurance outfit to Underweight from Equal Weight.
 
Kimberly Clark (NYSE:KMB): The Kleenex maker gets cut to Hold from Buy at Argus.
 
VeriFone (NYSE:PAY): Shares are slashed to Neutral from Positive at Susquehanna.

Also see:

New Stock Coverage: Marathon Winner Skechers a Stock for the Long Run

Stock Upgrades: AT&T Dials Back 1984 in Monopoly Merger
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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