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Stock Ratings Changes: Ring In the New Year With Ring Energy

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

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December 31st, New Year's Eve. The crash and its terrible consequences were still in the future. Financial leaders, everyone celebrated what had been a decade of prosperity and boundless optimism. They thought the party would last forever.
– American Experience, The Crash of 1929

The party, although it may appear otherwise tonight, always ends eventually, and the headache that follows is often horrendous. Miley Cyrus will drop her Wrecking Ball on the Crossroads of the World this evening, adamantly insisting, "It's our party, we can do what we want to." Yet contrarian party poopers are perfectly right to counter with, "It's our party and we'll cry if we want to," for recent headlines have given killjoys plenty of ammunition, even as US stock markets advance to fresh bests. A quick perusal provides ample evidence that next year will be far rougher for equities: "US Oil Price Tops $100," "Treasury Yields Highest Since July 2011," "NYSE Shows Margin Debt Keeps Hitting New Highs," and, most ominously of all, "China Local Government Debt Surges to $3 Trillion." The potentially ruinous results of all that are, however, all in the future. For now, let us hail the Dow's (INDEXDJX:.DJI) 51st record of 2013, and a 25.9% increase in the S&P 500 Index (INDEXSP:.INX) over the past 12 months.

Some overseas indices fared even better, with a 57% jump in Japan's Nikkei (INDEXNIKKEI:NI225) making it the planet's top-performing major market. That was Tokyo's best showing since 1972, when some of its citizens were still fighting the Second World War. (No smartphones spreading instantaneous information back then.) Ahead of tonight's ball drop in Times Square, Ball Corp (NYSE:BLL) rose to a record, and the New York Times (NYSE:NYT) gained 4.41% to a fresh 52-week peak, with the Old Gray Lady showing surprising signs of life as she prepares to cozy up to Mr. Auld Lang's Syne. (What is that song about by the way - an elderly gentleman named Lang who had a sign? I lived a decade in Edinburgh and its adorable lyrics were always indecipherable even when stone cold sober.) As a bearded Methuselah prepares to hand off to the wee bairn (or not, as the case may be), a startlingly clean-shaven Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) jumped 2.53% on a broker boost to easily best all blue chips. The Lion King creator, trading at a historic high, clearly remains the cat's whiskers -- an expression that always makes me think of Bill Clinton, who so loved Socks. As indeed did his successor, who preposterously paired them with Crocs (NASDAQ:CROX) to widespread sneering from the sartorial set in 2007. Diss George W. Bush at your peril; shares subsequently scaled an all-time summit that same year, and yesterday surged some 21.08%.

Indeed, memories of our 43rd Commander in Chief were further evoked on Monday when Dow Industrials traded in their tightest range since February 2007, the month the Dixie Chicks scooped several Grammy Awards with their anti-Dubya anthem "Not Ready to Make Nice." It looks like George will have the last laugh, however, for his booming childhood home of Midland, Texas sees its own Ring Energy (NYSEMKT:REI) score an analyst accolade this morning. Mind you, President Obama also appears to have a hitherto-unappreciated Midas touch in equities. Ever since he retired to Hawaii for a 17-day golfing holiday, Maui Land & Pineapple (NYSE:MLP) has been trading like a tech stock. Yesterday, it skyrocketed another 19.67% on over six times its average volume. And, while 2013 is all set to expire, irony will never die. Boston private equity outfit Bain Capital is buying a majority interest in Bob's Discount Furniture. And who will be the financial adviser for the furniture firm, whose prices make IKEA look expensive? Why, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) Merrill Lynch. A penny (or $1.2 million) for your thoughts, Mr. Thain.

In terms of economic events that may move US stock markets this morning, analysts expect a decline in the December Chicago purchasing managers' index at 9:45 a.m Eastern. At 10:00 a.m., this month's consumer confidence index from the Conference Board is anticipated to increase. The bond market closes early today, and all markets are closed tomorrow in observance of New Year's Day.

Blucora (NASDAQ:BCOR): Jefferies has a Hold rating and $31 price objective on Blucora stock. In 2012, Blucora changed its name from InfoSpace, which Internet-bubble investors of a certain age will recall was hailed by Henry Blodget as a "Buy" in public while he simultaneously described it as a "piece of junk" in internal emails.

Ener-Core (OTCBB:ENCR): The small-cap company, which trades on the pink sheets, is picked up with a Buy at Roth Capital. Its target price is $2.50.

Fifth Street Senior Floating Rate Corp (NASDAQ:FSFR): JMP Securities has a fresh Outperform, and $15.50 objective, on FSFR.

Gramercy Property Trust (NYSE:GPT): Compass Point keeps its overall investment opinion intact. The broker does, however, take its target up by $1.00 to $7.50.

Haemonetics (NYSE:HAE): The Benchmark Company cuts Haemonetics to Hold from Buy. Its price objective on the stock, previously $49, gets lowered to $46. Concerns include pricing issues and slower growth in its blood business.

Horsehead Holding (NASDAQ:ZINC): FBR Capital, while maintaining its overall investment rating, nonetheless takes its price target up by $4 to $20 amid optimism over the firm's North Carolina plant.

Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY): OXY is established with an Outperform at Iberia, whose price objective is $106.

Penn National Gaming (NASDAQ:PENN): FBR Capital again keeps its rating unchanged, but reduces its fourth-quarter revenue estimate to $651 million from $703 million. The broker notes that Penn's comparable quarterly win rate has slid 16% as of November.

Ring Energy (NYSEMKT:REI): Ring Energy, an oil and gas firm from Texas, gets resumed with a Buy at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. Its stock price objective is $17.

Vanguard Natural Resources (NASDAQ:VNR): The overall research rating remains as is, but MLV & Co moves its price target on Vanguard up by $2 to $34 on encouragement about an asset acquisition.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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