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Stock Downgrades: JC Penney Parties Like It's 1982

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

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With September, statistically the market's single worst month of the year, now behind us, we enter October, which begins with a government shutdown and ends on Halloween. So nothing to worry about, then. As it is, S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) shares sank for a seventh session in eight as Congressional gridlock turned even Wall Street's money men into the 99%. (Although, in a nice touch, Brookfield Office Properties (NYSE:BPO) - whose One Liberty Plaza literally looks down on Zuccotti Park - surged 13.71% amid the remorseless tide of red ink.)

It's a little known fact that Prince actually penned his iconic ditty "Party Like It's 1999" in 1982 and an ostracized JC Penney (NYSE:JCP) paid appropriate homage, its shares certainly now going for a song after a 2.71% tumble took the retailer to a new 31-year low. And call it the curse of Britney. First the singer who gave her husband the boot by BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) message saw that troubled outfit implode another 1.06%. And no sooner does the PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) endorser put her money in Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) then the pride of Atlanta from loses its long-running most valuable brand status to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL).

Today in economics, a slippage is seen in both September's Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index and August construction spending, each out at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. In earnings action, Actuant (NYSE:ATU), Global Payments (NYSE:GPN), Sonic Automotive (NYSE:SAH), and Walgreen (NYSE:WAG) are all due to report results.

Active Network (NYSE:ACTV): Shares, no longer trading on fundamentals following yesterday's buyout bid, are downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies. Its amended price target is $14.50.

Alkermes (NSADAQ:ALKS): Morgan Stanley moves the stock to Equal-Weight from Overweight.

Beacon Roofing Supply, Inc. (NASDAQ:BECN): Robert W. Baird reduces its recommendation to Neutral from Outperform.

Black Hills Corp (NYSE:BKH): The electric utility gets moved to Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan.

Casual Dining: Raymond James reduces ratings on Buffalo Wild Wings(NASDAQ:BWLD), which yesterday hit the highest level in its history, Carrol's Restaurant Group (NASDAQ:TAST), Fiesta Restaurant Group (NASDAQ:FRGI), and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (NASDAQ:RRGB). All are now Outperform from Strong Buy.

Cepheid (NASDAQ:CEPH): Bank of America-Merrill Lynch lowers the equity to Neutral from Buy.

Del Frisco's Restaurant Group (NASDAQ:DFRG): The owner of upscale steakhouses is slashed to Outperform from Strong Buy at Raymond James.

Finish Line Inc (NASDAQ:FINL): Shares are falling before the bell after being downgraded to Sell from Neutral at Goldman Sachs.

First Cash Financial (NASDAQ:FCFS): FBR Capital cuts the credit services company to Market Perform from Outperform mainly due to valuation concerns.

JC Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP): The plunging retailer, which yesterday touched lows not seen since 1982, is moved to Hold from Buy at Argus this morning. In recent store visits, it worryingly noted that JCP Everyday merchandise was discounted by some 40%-50%.

Park Electrochemical (NYSE:PKE): Shares are now Hold from Buy at Needham.

Torchmark (NYSE:TMK): The life insurance outfit gets lowered to Market Perform from Outperform with a $69 price objective at FBR Capital, which cites the sustained sales challenges it faces.

Universal Display (NASDAQ:OLED): Canaccord Genuity slashes the stock to Sell from Hold. Its price objective, previously $30, is now $19.

(See also: Stock Upgrades: On Jimmy's Birthday, Buy Carter's and New Stock Coverage: E.T. Phone Home? No -- T.I. Call Rome!)

Disclosure: Minyanville Studios, a division of Minyanville Media, has a business relationship with BlackBerry.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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