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Stock Upgrades: Kraft Foods, Still the Big Cheese, Living Velveeta Loca

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

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Maybe this is what they mean by the "January barometer." As the Big Apple broke a bone-chilling single-digit record set in 1896, the year the Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI) was born, blue chips surged by triple-digits in posting their strongest showing of 2014. The S&P 500 Index (INDEXSP:.INX), for its part, rose for the first time in four sessions even as the temperature in Central Park plunged to four degrees. With Botox maker Allergan (NYSE:AGN) advancing 1.56% after a broker boost, it was a day to put frozen smiles on investors' faces. (Bill Gross, down in the dumps after an utterly awful 2013, really ought to try it some time.) Moving from frozen smiles to pursed lips, Neurocrine Biosciences (NASDAQ:NBIX) - which treats the repetitive-movement malady - surged some 89.69% to top the Nasdaq (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC). Elsewhere, Did You Hear About the Morgans? That may make a good movie one day, but not on Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), which nosedived 5.58% after incurring a rating reduction at Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS). JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM), meanwhile, dropped a Dow-worst 1.15% after getting a $2.5 billion bill for getting into bed with Bernie Madoff. And while America goes gaga for marijuana stocks, Lululemon Athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) profitably went to Potdevin. It advanced 0.87% on an analyst upgrade.

In terms of events that may move US stock markets today, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern we get minutes to the Fed's December 17-18, 2013 meeting, at which it announced the beginning of the end for its bond-buying binge. At 3:00 p.m., analysts expect November 2013 consumer credit to contract from the prior month's pace. Regarding specific stocks, AZZ Incorporated (NYSE:AZZ), Bed Bath & Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY), Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ), Family Dollar (NYSE:FDO), Monsanto (NYSE:MON), Ruby Tuesday (NYSE:RT), and Texas Industries (NYSE:TXI) are all due to release results.

Guidance Software (NASDAQ:GUID): GUID gets upgraded to Buy from Hold with a $13 price objective at The Benchmark Company, which cites its freshly released EnCase Analytics offering among other favorable factors.

Helmerich & Payne (NYSE:HP): RBC Capital moves the company to Outperform from Perform. Its new target price is now $96.

Hershey Foods (NYSE:HSY): Shares get hoisted to Buy from Hold at Deutsche Bank.

Kraft Foods Group (NASDAQ:KRFT): (Apologies to Mr. Martin for taking liberties with his lyrics.) An ominous Velveeta shortage - and on the eve of the Super Bowl, yet - doesn't appear to be eating into profits at Kraft. Today its stock is taken to Buy from Hold at Deutsche Bank.

Manitowoc (NYSE:MTW): Morgan Stanley moves MTW to Overweight from Equal Weight.

MetLife (NYSE:MET): MetLife stock gets a Buy-from-Neutral boost at Citigroup.

Nabors Industries (NYSE:NBR): NBR is now Outperform from Perform ($20 target) at RBC Capital, which cites its strong Tier 1 rig market.

NASDAQ OMX Group (NASDAQ:NDAQ): Shares are now Buy from Neutral at Citigroup.

Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA): Wells Fargo takes the fast-food firm to Outperform from Market Perform.

Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD): RAD gets raised to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan.

Tyco (NYSE:TYC): Citi takes TYC to Buy from Neutral.

Union Pacific (NYSE:UNP): Railroad stock Union Pacific gets raised to Outperform from Market Perform by Sanford Bernstein.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:VRX): Shares are increased to Overweight from Equal Weight at Morgan Stanley.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: JPMorgan Will Survive Its Weekend at Bernie's and Stock Downgrades: McDonald's Cries Tears of a Clown)
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