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Stock Upgrades: Bulls Are Eyeing Target

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

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Well, today's the day an anxious world has been waiting for. But enough about Buffett's annual letter. March 1 is here and with it an $85 billion sequestration, which Congress was concerned enough about to head home for the weekend early.

Fresh from House leader John Boehner telling the Senate's Donkeys to "get off their ass," Regeneron Pharmceuticals (REGN) - based in the headless horseman heartland of Tarrytown - rode bullish research to advance 1.33% on an otherwise down day. (This hard on the hoofs of Horsehead Holding (ZINC) jumping on an equally ebullient analyst assessment; here's hoping nobody tells IKEA.)

Elsewhere life's two certainties remain as reliable as ever, with TurboTax owner Intuit (INTU) advancing 1.11% to an all-time high while funeral home operator Carriage Services (CSV) rose 3.29% to finish at a fresh 52-week peak. Alas the death stare of Groupon's (GRPN) Andrew Mason wasn't enough to prevent him being fired after that troubled stock tumbled 24.28%. Bill Ackman has had better days. The hedge fund heavyweight's big short Herbalife (HLF) surged 7.61% while his pet project JC Penney (JCP) slid 16.97%. Today's upgrade of Target (TGT) completes his trifecta of trouble.

This morning in economics, at 9:55 a.m. Eastern we get the final February figure for consumer confidence from the University of Michigan, followed at 10:00 a.m. by both January construction spending and last month's Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index. On the earnings front, Best Buy (BBY), Foster Wheeler (FWLT), Lloyds Banking Group (LYG), Pepco Holdings (POM),Vanguard Natural Resources (VNR), and British-based advertising giant WPP plc (PINK:WPPGY) are all expected to release results.

AFLAC (AFL): Evercore increases the insurance outfit to Overweight from Equal Weight.

Alcatel-Lucent (ALU): Shares are moved to Market Perform from Underperform by Sanford Bernstein.

Autodesk (ADSK): ADSK gets a Buy-from-Hold hoist at Jefferies.

Cloud Peak Energy (CLD): UBS raises its rating to Buy from Neutral.

Illumina (ILMN): The stock is boosted to Buy from Neutral at UBS.

International Paper (IP): Citing recent containterboard price increases, RBC Capital raises its investment opinion to
Outperform from Sector Perform and takes its target price up to $52 from $40.

Intuitive Surgical (ISRG): Cantor Fitzgerald upgrades ISRG to Buy from Hold and also increases their price objective to $575 from $550, as they see limited risk that a Food and Drug Administration investigation into its da Vinci product will ultimately prove problematic for the company.

Invesco (IVZ): Citigroup adds the financial stock to its Top Picks Live list.

Priceline.com (PCLN): Lazard lifts the online travel outfit to Buy from Neutral.

Sequenom (SQNM): Piper Jaffray boosts the biotech to Overweight from Neutral, sending the small cap stock surging more than 7% in today's pre-market trading.

Target (NYSE:TGT): The retailer is raised to Outperform from Market Perform with Wells Fargo, which now sees fair value in the range of $73 to $78, up from a prior projection of $61 to $65. Catalysts include an increased push into eCommerce focus and exposure to a real estate rebound.

Telefónica (TEF): The Spanish telecom titan is taken to Equal Weight from Underweight by Barclays.

Westlake Chemical (WLK): The stock is moved to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: Perry Ellis Is Dressed for Success and Stock Downgrades: There's the Beef With Wendy's.)
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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