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Stock Upgrades: Dust Off Those Walkmans -- Sony's Suddenly Sexy Again

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

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The Dow (^DJI) is now up 6% so far this year, and on course for its best January since 1989, an unimaginably distant age almost a quarter-century ago. Back then Japan, fresh from scooping up Rockefeller Center on the cheap, was seeing a stock surge, with Sony (SNE) especially ascendant, while Toyota (TM) was taking Detroit to the cleaners.

On this side of the Atlantic, a tech icon which was also big in the '80s fell on hard times. But enough about Atari. All of a sudden it is Apple (AAPL), down 37.3% from September peaks, that we have to worry about. No such troubles for Procter & Gamble (PG), which surged 4.7% amid strong sales of its razor blades Braun, Fusion, Gillette, and Mach 3. Although apparently the bearded hipster head honcho of Goldman Sachs (GS) remains to be convinced.

This morning in economics, consensus calls for December pending home sales to tick up at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. In earnings action, it's the start of another frenetic week for fourth quarter announcements, with today's releases due to include Biogen Idec (BIIB), BMC Software (BMC), Caterpillar (CAT), MicroStrategy (MSTR), Ryanair (PINKY:RYAAY), Seagate Technology (STX), Steel Dynamics (STLD), VMware (VMW), Yahoo (YHOO), Zions Bancorporation (ZION).

ASML Holding (ASML): Shares in the semiconductor-equipment supplier are up at an 18 year high in today's European trading after a Buy-from-Neutral boost at Citigroup.

Best Buy (BBY): BBY is boosted to Buy from Hold at BB&T Capital.

Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG): Lazard lifts the fast food firm to Buy from Neutral.

Facebook (FB): Raymond James raises its rating on the social network, fresh from last week's 6.3% surge, to Outperform from Market Perform, sending the stock up in today's pre-market activity.

Halliburton (HAL): The oil services outfit gets hoisted to Buy from Hold at MLV & Co, which takes its target price to $52 from $36.

NetApp (NTAP): NTAP is now Overweight from Equal Weight at Barclays.

News Corp (NWSA): Rupert Murdoch's media empire is moved to Overweight from Equal-Weight at Morgan Stanley, which highlights an upcoming spin-off.

Norfolk Southern (NSC): Jefferies juices the railroad to Buy from Hold.

Procter & Gamble (PG): The Dow (^DJI) member is upgraded to Buy from Neutral at B. Riley Caris, whose price objective is $88.

Sony (NYSE:SNE): Shares, on a real run of late, are surging a further 6.94% before the bell on an upgrade to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup. The bank believes expected yen weakness should bring strategy changes aimed at improving earnings in consumer electronics.

Staples (SPLS): The office supply outfit is now Neutral from Sell at Goldman Sachs.

Starwood Hotels (HOT): Janney Capital Markets juices its recommendation to Buy from Neutral and increases its price objective to $67 from $55. "Another round of asset sales could begin and [the company] could move closer to its goal of being asset light," its analysts wrote in a note.

TNT Express (PINK:TNTEY): The package delivery outfit is now Buy from Neutral at UBS, which says management will take aggressive action on its operations in both Brazil and China. As a result, the stock is sharply higher in London this morning.

Xerox (XRX): BMO Capital raises its rating to Outperform from Perform.

(See also: Stock Downgrades: Apple's Fallen And It Can't Get Up and New Stock Coverage: Raise a Toast to Heineken.)
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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