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Stock Downgrades: Bear Hug for Hershey's Kisses

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

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Mount Whitney, at over 14,000 feet, is the highest summit in the contiguous United States but until Friday the Dow (^DJI) hadn't seen that lofty level since Meredith Whitney downgraded Citigroup (C) in October 2007. Stocks are now on a roll, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Across the ocean Spain's Bankia (PINK:BNKXF) - whose headquarters tilt at an unnerving angle - tumbled 25% on the week. Yet Europe, once again, can lean on America, with pride-of-Peoria Caterpillar (CAT) jumping 4.1% and Oshkosh (OSK) up $6.50. Super Bowl ads continued to work as a reliable contrary indicator.

Apple Inc. (AAPL), which invented the genre in 1984, has now fallen 14.5% in 2013 and SodaStream (SODA), which sorta made its big game debut, slumped 6.7%. As for Anheuser-Busch (BUD), its spots cost a cool $3.8 million for 30 seconds of airtime yet the stock, which suffered its steepest slide in four years on Thursday, has just incurred another ratings reduction.

This morning in economics, factory orders for December are due at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. About half of the S&P 500 (^GSPC) companies have now announced earnings, with today's results are expected to include Anglo American Platinum (PINK:AGPPY), Clorox (CLX), Gannett (GCI), Humana (HUM), Leggett & Platt (LEG), Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL), Sysco Corporation (SYY), and Yum Brands (YUM).

Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD): Shares are off sharply ahead of the open after the brewing giant was lowered to Neutral from Buy at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.

Aon plc (AON): The insurance outfit, recently trading at all-time highs, is now Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan.

Akzo Nobel (PINK:AKZOY): Shares are now Reduce from Neutral at Nomura.

Cash America (CSH): Janney Capital cuts the pawn company to Neutral from Buy.

Charles Schwab (SCHW): The discount broker is reduced to Neutral from Buy at UBS.

Chevron (CVX): The oil giant, on a nice run recently, is lower in this morning's pre-market activity after getting downgraded to Neutral from Buy at UBS.

Columbia Sportswear (COLM): Shares are slashed to Sell from Neutral at Citigroup.

Guess? (GES): GES gets downgraded to Underperform from Neutral at Buckingham Research.

Hershey Foods (NYSE:HSY): Goldman Sachs removes the confectionery company from its Conviction Buy List amid valuation concerns after recent share price strength .Its amended price objective is $86.

Leapfrog (LF): LF is lowered to Buy from Strong Buy at Ascendiant Capital Markets, which also takes its target price to $12 from $15. Sales of LeapPad 2, flying off the shelves over the holidays, seem to have slowed since.

Merck (MRK): Friday's poorest performing blue chip is moved to Underweight from Equal-Weight at Morgan Stanley

Tiffany (TIF): TIF is taken to Neutral from Buy at Monness Crespi & Hardt.

Vodafone (VOD): The British telecom titan is trading lower in London today after a Neutral-from-Buy slash at Citigroup.

Wal-Mart (WMT): JPMorgan moves the key Dow (^DJI) component to Neutral from Overweight, sending shares down this morning. Same-store sales comparisons are believed to have peaked due to pressures from the payroll tax increase, and the target is trimmed to $75 from $84.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: Sprint Stuck in the Starting Block and Stock Upgrades: Things Looking Better in the BlackBerry Patch.)
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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