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Stock Downgrades: Cutting the Cord on VeriFone

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

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Kim Kardashian is done with publicity, the brilliant Barcelona lost a soccer match to Silvio Berlusconi's playthings, and a previously surging stock market plummeted. Three once-in-a-lifetime events in one day, eh? Must be a full moon.

The Fed's rumored removal of monetary morphine sent investors to the emergency ward, although it was Manna from Heaven for the men in white coats at Merck (MRK), which bested all blue chips on an otherwise dire day. The French were derided as lazy by a titan of industry but with La-Z-Boy (LZB) surging 11.45%, they are clearly on to something. The company posted the second best performance on the entire NYSE but toilers take heart for the top stock was none other than Endeavour International (END), which increased 11.71%.

We get a trifecta of economic data today at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, with January leading indicators and existing home sales, plus the Philadelphia Fed Index for February, all due at that time. In earnings action, Allianz (PINK:AZSEY), American International Group (AIG), AXA Group (PINK:AXAHY), BAE Systems (PINK:BAESY), Chesapeake Energy (CHK), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Nordstrom (JWN), Safeway (SWY), Swiss Re (PINK:SSREY), and Wal-Mart (WMT) are all expected to release results.

BHP Billiton (BHP): The commodity giant gets taken to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup, sending shares sharply lower in London this morning. Citi says much of the upside from capital expenditure reduction is already adequately reflected in the share price at this point.

Cheniere Energy Partners (CQP): Shares are downgraded to Equal Weight from Overweight by Barclays.

Danone (PINK:DANOY): Goldman downgrades the yogurt maker to Buy from Conviction Buy.

Heckmann (HEK): Jefferies lowers the waste management firm to Hold from Buy.

Home Improvement Retailers: Saying there are increasing indications that the housing rebound is stalling, Stifel Nicolaus hits both key Dow (^DJI) component Home Depot (HD) and its smaller rival Lowe's Co (LOW) with Hold-from-Buy ratings reductions.

Kyocera (KYO): The Japanese tech firm gets taken to Neutral from Outperform at Credit Suisse.

Office Supply Stocks: Fresh from their botched merger announcement, Office Depot (ODP) and OfficeMax (OMX) are each now Neutral from Buy at Janney.

Omnicom (OMC): Pivotal Research reduces its recommendation on the advertising firm to Hold from Buy.

Tesla Motors (TSLA): Bank of America-Merrill Lynch takes the electric car company to Underperform from Neutral after its earnings announcement, which has sent shares sharply lower in today's pre-market action.

Union First Market Bankshares (UBSH): Compass Point cuts the company to Neutral from Buy. Shares seem fully valued at this point, especially in light of the loan growth backdrop.

VeriFone (NYSE:PAY): JPMorgan moves the stock, slumping 36.81% ahead of this morning's opening bell, to Neutral from Overweight. A multitude of other Wall Street firms have also slashed their investment opinion on the company today. Issues include its quarterly earnings shortfall and a lack of near-term visibility.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: High Fives for Arm Holdings and Stock Upgrades: Groupon Is Today's Deal of the Day.)
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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