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Stock Downgrades: Brinker International, Inc. Gets a Chili Reception

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

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Stocks surged as the pronouncements of a gray-bearded guy were extremely warmly received. But enough about Clooney, whose attack on Dan Loeb found many fans. No, it was Ben Bernanke who once again boosted bourses with his market-friendly Fed policies. Moving from one George to another, one hopes Mr. Zimmer still owns some Men's Wearhouse (MW) after it unceremoniously ousted him, for shares just jumped 13.5%. And reports of a George Soros stake sent Herbalife (HLF) up 9.6%. Elsewhere Facebook (FB) gained 11.9%, finishing Friday at $38.05 in its first close above the IPO price. If they will allow the expression, pretty soon the social networking name will be A Pirate Looking at $40, to paraphrase Jimmy Buffett. His cousin Warren isn't faring too badly, either, with Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) advancing impressively this morning on earnings.

Today in economics, analysts expect an uptick in July's Institute for Supply Management non-manufacturing index at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. On the earnings front, HSBC Holdings (HBC), Macerich Company (MAC), Rockwood Holding (ROC), Tyson Foods (TSN), Veolia Environnement (VE), and Vornado Realty (VNO) are all due to release results.

Agrium (AGU): Shares are slashed to Hold from Buy at Stifel amid its revised projections for potash and nitrogen prices following last week's fertilizer industry mauling.

Akzo Nobel (AKZOY): The paint and coating company is slumping in today's European trading after being taken to Sell from Hold by Berenberg.

Allstate (ALL): Deutsche Bank downgrades the insurance firm to Hold from Buy.

Alpha Natural Resources (ANR): BB&T Capital cuts the coal company to Hold from Buy.

Ameriprise Financial (AMP): Shares, which finished Friday at the highest level in their history, are now Neutral from Buy at Citigroup.

Brinker International, Inc. (EAT): Raymond James reduces the fast food firm, owner of Chili's, to Market Perform from Outperform.

CBOE Holdings (CBOE): The exchange operator is now Neutral from Buy at Goldman Sachs.

Chubb (CB): Deutsche Bank takes the insurance outfit to Hold from Buy.

Fossil (FOSL): The stock gets downgraded to Underweight from Equal Weight by Barclays, sending it tumbling about 2% as I write.

Hillshire Brands (HSH) Wells Fargo lowers its rating to Underperform from Market Perform.

Jacobs Engineering (JEC): Shares are cut to Neutral from Buy at Robert W. Baird.

Kinross Gold (KGC): Citigroup reduces its rating to Neutral from Buy.

Kraft Foods (KRFT): The food company is cut to Hold from Buy at Jefferies. Heightened competition is among the broker's concerns.

Qualcomm (QCOM) Shares are now Neutral from Overweight at Piper Jaffray on account of slipping demand for smartphones.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS): Société Générale slashes its fellow financial firm to Sell from Hold.

RWE AG (RWEOY): The German utility giant gets reduced to Underperform from Sector Perform at RBC Capital.

Salix Pharmaceuticals (SLXP): The company is cut to Hold from Buy with an amended $81 price objective at Cantor Fitzgerald due to valuation issues.

Solar Capital (SLRC): JMP Securities moves the stock to Market Perform from Outperform.

Spreadtrum Communications (SPRD): Shares are now Hold from Buy at Jefferies.

Strategic Hotels & Resorts (BEE): The accommodation outfit is moved to Market Perform from Outperform with Wells Fargo.

Swift Energy (SFY): The stock is now Neutral from Outperform at Credit Suisse.

Teva Pharmaceutical (TEVA): TEVA gets taken to Underweight from Equal-Weight at Morgan Stanley.

Universal American Corp (UAM): Wedbush lowers its investment opinion to Neutral from Outperform.

Viacom (VIAB): Its concerns including ratings weakness and rising affiliate fees, Needham moves the MTV owner to Hold from Buy.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: Canadian Solar Inc. Is a Light in the North and Stock Upgrades: Steven Madden, Ltd. Gets Out of Jail.)
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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