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Stock Downgrades: MasterCard No Longer Quite So 'Priceless'


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

The Fed had the best of intentions when it recently pumped up its interest rate announcements to 2:00 p.m. Eastern. After all, the middle of Hump Day is when energy starts to sag, and who better than Ben Bernanke & Co to provide a sugar rush from which the economy appears utterly incapable of weaning itself off?

Unfortunately, it did not have the desired effect yesterday, with Dow Industrials (^DJI) enduring their single worst FOMC session-swoon since September 21, 2011. Good thing that other Ben, ice cream purveyor Mr. Cohen, provided an antidote hypoglycemia when he sold his company to corporate giant Unilever (UN) for a cool $325 million cash. Yesterday that stock hit the highest level in its history, inspiring all hippies who care not a jot about making money, and on May Day of all days.

For those who prefer this weekend's "Woodstock for Capitalists" to the Birkenstock-wearing real deal, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) scored an exceedingly rare analyst initiation. In 1969, not everyone was traipsing through the mud in upstate New York, of course, though it may have seemed that way at the time. On the other coast a bunch of geeks in Silicon Valley started Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) that same year. And based on yesterday's 14.18% S&P 500-best (^GSPC) jump in its shares, the nerds ultimately inherit the Earth.

We're now more than two-thirds of way through earnings season, but key results continue to roll in. Among today's standouts are American International Group (AIG), British Sky Broadcasting (PINK:BSYBY), General Motors (GM), Gilead Sciences (GILD), Kellogg (K), Kraft Foods (KRFT), LinkedIn (LNKD), Monster Worldwide (MWW), Royal Dutch Shell (RDS-A), and Sanofi-Aventis (SNY).

Active Network (ACTV): Troubled by an exodus of upper management, RBC Capital cuts the application software company to Sector Perform from Outperform.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD): Shares, after a great run yesterday, are now Neutral from Outperform at Macquarie.

Boston Beer (SAM): Crédit Agricole cuts the recently surging stock to Underperform from Outperform amid valuation issues.

California Water Service (CWT): Shares are downgraded to Hold from Buy at Brean Capital.

Columbia Sportswear (COLM): COLM is cut to Hold at McAdams Wright Ragen.

Comstock Resources (CRK): Shares are downgraded to Hold from Buy at Stifel due to issues including limited oil drilling inventory.

CONSOL Energy (CNX): Morgan Stanley cuts the coal company to Overweight from Equal-Weight.

DXP Enterprises (DXPE): BB&T Capital Markets moves the industrial equipment outfit to Hold from Buy.

Exelon (EXC): The nuclear power play is now Hold from Buy with Wunderlich.

Franklin Resources (BEN): BEN is now Neutral from Buy at Sterne Agee.

Hyatt Hotels (H): The stock is downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at Credit Suisse.

Jack Henry & Associates (JKHY): The business software stock downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at Wells Fargo.

MasterCard (NYSE:MA): Raymond James reduces its recommendation on the credit card company, famous for its "Priceless" advertising campaign, to Market Perform from Outperform. The US economy in the first quarter "was definitely very choppy," its Chief Financial Officer said.

Newport Corporation (NEWP): Shares are downgraded to Hold from Buy at Needham.

Micron Technology (MU): Crédit Agricole cuts the semiconductor stock to Underperform from Outperform.

SolarCity (SCTY): Shares are now Neutral from Buy at Goldman Sachs.

Vivendi (PINK:VIVEF): The giant French media firm gets downgraded to Equal Weight from Overweight by Barclays.

Williams Partners (WPZ): Bank of America-Merrill Lynch lowers the limited partnership to Neutral from Buy.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: T-Mobile Gets Lukewarm Reception and Stock Upgrades: Comedy Central Owner Viacom Laughing All the Way to the Bank.)
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