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Stock Downgrades: Children's Place Is Grounded


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

Four-day workweeks, so popular in Europe, proved less successful here as stocks posted their first weekly decline of the year. (Although any investors long La-Z-Boy (LZB), which surged some 16.93% in the 72 hours after Presidents' Day, were sitting pretty.) Greece's main market, down 4.31%, was the worst on the continent with investors quite literally worrying, "Après Athens, le deluge." At least Rexam (PINK:REXMY), Europe's largest maker of beverage cans, surged 7.3% in preparation for yet another round of economic can-kicking across the Atlantic.

We lost one of the Staple Sisters but Staples (SPLS) stock is no longer going for a song, increasing 2.5% on merger activity in its industry. "That was easy" is its slogan, yet a botched corporate marriage by two competitors suggests amalgamation is anything but. And with Downton Abbey over for another year, America's largest luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers (TOL) slid 6.7%. In a week we learned that a woman living in a humble $90,000 apartment died with $27 million, luxury is overrated anyway.

No top-tier economic data due today, but earnings announcements are expected out of Autodesk (ADSK), Caesars Entertainment (CZR), 3D Systems (DDD), FirstEnergy (FE), Hertz (HTZ), Lowe's (LOW), Pearson (PSO), and URS Corporation (URS).

Abaxis (ABAX): Bank of America-Merrill Lynch moves the maker of diagnostic tests to Underperform from Neutral.

Alcatel-Lucent (ALU): The telecom stock gets taken to Underweight from Neutral at HSBC Securities.

Affymax (AFFY): Robert W. Baird is one of many firms reducing its recommendation today, taking it to Neutral from Outperform and slashing its price objective to $4 from $30. The drugmaker is suspending marketing and distribution of Omontys after five patient deaths. Shares are sliding some 70%-plus before this morning's opening bell.

Berry Petroleum (BRY): The oil outfit is slashed to Neutral from Buy at Susquehanna.

Children's Place (NASDAQ:PLCE): The company is cut to Neutral from Buy at Janney, which also trims its target price by $10 to $49 from $59. Concerns include pressures on the lower-end consumer and a highly competitive industry that is seeing substantial sector-wide discounting.

Clothing Companies: Ascena Retail Group (ASNA), formerly known as Dress Barn, and Aéropostale (ARO) are each moved to Hold from Buy at KeyBanc Capital Markets.

Commerce Bancshares (CBSH): Raymond James reduces its rating to Underperform from Perform.

Endo Health (ENDP): Shares are downgraded to Underweight from Equal Weight at Piper Jaffray.

H.J. Heinz (HNZ): Citigroup cuts the condiment king to Neutral from Buy.

Noble Energy (NBL): Goldman Sachs pulls the name from its Conviction Buy list.

Owens Corning (OC): Troubled by limited earnings visibility, Wells Fargo takes the building materials firm to Market Perform from Outperform.

Teekay LNG Partners (TGP): Raymond James reduces its rating to Outperform from Strong Buy.

Teva Pharmaceutical (TEVA): Argus takes TEVA to Hold from Buy amid Copaxone competition and a lack of overall catalysts.

Tidewater (TDW): The energy outfit gets downgraded to Neutral from Buy at ISI Group.

Williams Partners (WPZ): Global Hunter takes the stock to Accumulate from Buy with a $54 target after the limited partnership issued lower earnings guidance.
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