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Stock Downgrades: Wal-Mart Hits Brick Wall

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

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Stocks finished mixed in mushy trading, with Dow Industrials (^DJI) dropping even as the S&P 500 Index (^GSPC) hit another new high. Such an indecisive outcome was no way to honor Joe Louis on his birthday, for the legendary boxer didn't do split decisions.

There was something in the water in Orlando, with SeaWorld (SEAS) surging 4.84%, Disney (DIS) ending at an all-time best, and BlackBerry (BBRY) bouncing 2.19% as it begins a three-day conference in Florida's third largest city. Liberal lion the New York Times (NYT) and Republican standard bearer Mitt Romney rarely find themselves on the same page, but a mutual loathing of Tesla Motors (TSLA) unites both. Not that the auto outfit will care one whit after it followed up last week's 40.7% increase by advancing another 14.3%.

Elsewhere, love was in the air for Spark Networks (LOV), with the owner of JDate and ChristianMingle jumping 7.05% on a broker boost, and the answer was blowing in the wind for an upgraded Vestas Wind Systems (OTCMKTS:VWDRY) after its 10.85% increase.

Today's quarterly earnings announcements are expected to include Agilent Technologies (A), Eagle Materials (EXP), Sharp (OTCMKTS:SHCAY), and Valspar (VAL).

Alere (ALR): Craig Hallum cuts the company to Hold from Buy.

Bank of Montreal (BMO): Morgan Stanley moves its fellow financial firm to Underweight from Equal-Weight.

Cree Inc. (CREE): Shares are tumbling 2.8% after being slashed to Neutral from Buy at Sterne Agee.

KB Home (KBH): Raymond James cuts KBH to Perform from Outperform.

Melco Crown Entertainment (MPEL): MPEL is moved to Neutral from Buy at UBS.

Oil States (OIS): OIS is downgraded to Hold from Buy at BB&T Capital.

Patterson Companies (PDCO): Shares are downgraded to Hold from Buy with a $40 target price at WallachBeth, which says the risk/reward is unattractive at current levels.

SolarCity (SCTY): Shares, slumping before the bell, are now Neutral from Outperform at Credit Suisse.

VIVUS, Inc. (VVUS): The weight loss stock is shedding 1.5% before the bell after being lowered to Neutral from Buy at Lazard.

Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT): The Dow (^DJI) member is dropping 0.6% this morning after being removed from Citigroup's Top Picks Live list. February sales were weak, the bank notes.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: Disney Still The Big Cheese and Stock Upgrades: Royal Bank of Canada Stock Heads North)
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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