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Stock Downgrades: Storm Clouds Gather Over First Solar

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

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Stocks fell, with homebuilders being particularly pummeled, amid worrying news from the Fed. Sorry, that sentence is soo last week. Yesterday stocks surged thanks to market-friendly comments from the Fed, with homebuilders leading the advance. Even manically depressed Detroit could afford to turn that frown upside down after its real estate prices showed an especially impressive surge in the Case-Shiller index.

A new Manhattan museum exhibit says we are still living in 1993, and with monthly home sales showing their best gain since January of that year and Italian 10-year government bond yields jumping by the most in two decades, it's awfully hard to argue. A ratings reduction saw tobacco titan tumble 1.84%. What a pity C. Everett Koop didn't live to see it, for he once said of its Newport "Alive With Pleasure" campaign that a more accurate slogan should be "'Dying in Agony' instead."

Reynolds American dropped 1.17%. Its ads infamously boasted of a lethal product that "She's gone to Capri and she's not coming back." What would Don Draper do to improve upon that unintentionally ambiguous message? With Mad Men owner AMC Networks (AMCX) sliding 3.56% after an earnings miss, now's not the time to ask.

This morning in economics, analysts expect an increase in January pending home sales at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, and Fed head Ben Bernanke concludes two days of monetary testimony on Capitol Hill. In earnings activity, Anheuser-Busch (BUD), Cincinnati Bell (CBB), Dollar Tree (DLTR), European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (PINK:EADSY), Fortress Investment (FIG), Groupon (GRPN), JC Penney (JCP), Limited Brands (LTD), Target (TGT), and TJX Companies (TJX) are all due to report results.

EW Scripps (SSP): Shares are now Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan following a fourth quarter earnings miss.

First Cash Financial Services (FCFS): The pawnbroker gets downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies.

First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR): With shares tumbling 12% ahead of the open after a revenue miss, Robert W. Baird reduces its recommendation to Neutral from Outperform (price taken to $25 from $30) and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch lowers its rating to Underperform from Neutral. Commentary from company management has created a hitherto-unexpected degree of uncertainty for 2013.

GrafTech International (GTI): GTI gets moved to Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan and slashed to Sell from Neutral at Goldman Sachs.

InvenSense (INVN): Robert W. Baird reduces its rating to Neutral from Outperform with a new lower price objective of $13, down from $16. The analyst now expects stalled market share gains and potential pricing pressure.

Kimberly-Clark de Mexico (PINK:KCDMY): Shares get downgraded to Hold from Buy at Deutsche Bank.

MarkWest Energy (MWE): Credit Suisse moves MWE to Neutral from Outperform.

NuVasive (NUVA): Shares are reduced to Neutral from Buy at Mizuho.

OceanFirst Financial (OCFC): The stock is now Neutral from Buy at Sterne Agee.

Royal Bank of Canada (RY): Citigroup cuts the company to Neutral from Buy, citing an excessive valuation.

VeriSign (VRSN): Credit Suisse takes the tech name to Neutral from Outperform.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: These Days, You're Either LinkedIn or You're Left Out and Stock Upgrades: Google Is Going Places.)
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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