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Stock Downgrades: Will Obamacare Put UnitedHealth in Intensive Care?

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

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"The business of America is business." So said 'Silent Cal' Coolidge, the man of famously few words who still managed to make money talk most eloquently in the Roaring Twenties. Thus it was that this country turned its attention back to what it does best after recent DC distractions. With appropriate assists from American Airlines (OTCMKTS:AAMRQ), which advanced 9.34% amid analyst accolades and a return to profitability, and American Express (NYSE:AXP), up a Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI)-best 5.12% to a historic high, commerce was once again king in the land of the free. The Liberty Bell's reopening thus inspired S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) shares to a historic high by the closing bell. Among stocks on the move, Tommy Lee Jones' Ameriprise Financial (NYSE:AMP) gave Dow Jones (INDEXDJX:.DJI) a run for his money, advancing 1.72% to an all-time best. This as Al Gore, the actor's increasingly rotund Harvard roommate, sensibly eschewed biting the Cook's hand that feeds him at Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL). Elsewhere, the dreaded cover curse escaped Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg, as the social networking name founded in a Harvard dorm room gained 2.10% to a fresh post-IPO peak. Alas, further inside its pages, Fortune conspicuously failed to smile on her fellow female tech titan Ginni Rometty at International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM). An unloved Big Blue, downgraded again this morning, slumped 6.38% to lead S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) laggards.

A frenetic week for third quarter earnings announcements finishes with General Electric (NYSE:GE), Honeywell (NYSE:HON), Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), and Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) all releasing results.

Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE:AMD): Bank of America-Merrill Lynch lowers the semiconductor stock to Neutral from Buy.

Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE:ANR): The coal company gets cut to Underperform from Perform by BMO Capital.

Aspen Technology (NASDAQ:AZPN): Shares are moved to Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan.

Baxter International (NYSE:BAX): Raymond James reduces its rating on the medical device maker to Market Perform from Outperform.

Fairchild Semiconductor (NYSE:FCS): The stock gets downgraded to Hold from Buy at Canaccord Genuity.

International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM): Another day, another downgrade for Big Blue, which slumped 6.36% even amid yesterday's overall ebullience in equities. Today it is taken to Hold from Buy at Argus.

Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG): Shares, slumping before the bell, are slashed to Underperform from Market Perform at Northland Capital. Increased R&D spending is among a multitude of concerns and its price objective, previously $370, is taken to $275.

Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS): LVS is lowered to Hold from Buy at Craig Hallum.

Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA): Wedbush cuts the fast food firm to Neutral from Outperform.

RDA Microelectronics (NASDAQ:RDA): RDA gets reduced to Hold from Buy at Canaccord Genuity.

Sanofi-Aventis (NYSESNY): The pharmaceutical firm is lowered to Perform from Outperform at Leerink Swann.

Tesco (OTCMKTS:TSCDY): Cantor Fitzgerald cuts the English grocery giant to Hold from Buy.

Total (NYSE:TOT): The French oil firm is now Neutral from Buy at UBS.

UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH): The key Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI) component, which fell 5.03% yesterday amid earnings and Affordable Care Act concerns, is cut to Hold from Buy at Cantor Fitzgerald.

William Hill (OTCMKTS:WIMHY): The British bookmaker is lower in today's London trading after being taken to Underweight from Equal Weight at JPMorgan.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: Iffy End to the Week for Finish Line and Stock Upgrades: Amazon's Jeff Bezos Laughs All the Way to the Bank)
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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