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Stock Upgrades: Hewlett-Packard Picking Up

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

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Bonds will be fêted with a love fest in Tinseltown on Sunday, but signs that the Fed is finally tiring of its bond buying binge sent stocks to their lowest level in two and a half weeks. Zale Corp. (ZLC), which bills itself as "America's diamond store since 1924," imploded 8.70% but cheer up, for where ring things are concerned, what was lost is often found in the unlikeliest places.

A "total disaster," the sort of phrase more usually reserved for the likes of tsunamis and mass killings, now looks an even less appropriate description of sales at Wal-Mart (WMT) after it advanced 1.52% on a down day and increased its dividend by 18%. Apple Inc. (AAPL) lost another 0.62% and has now fallen for seven straight sessions.

Steve Jobs once looked up Bill Hewlett (HPQ) in the phone book for help with an eighth grade science project. Smart move, kid, with HP stock surging before today's opening bell. And apparently you did build that: Lego announced a 35% jump in annual profit.

No top-tier economic data due today, but quarterly earnings announcements are expected out of Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), Barnes Group (B), Charter Communications (CHTR), Gardner Denver (GDI), Interpublic Group (IPG), Warner Chilcott (WCRX), and Washington Post (WPO).

ArcelorMittal (MT): HSBC Securities hoists the steel stock to Neutral from Underweight with a price objective of $16.

Caterpillar (CAT): The company, a key Dow (^DJI) component, gets raised to Outperform from Market Perform at Raymond James.

Eagle Materials (EXP): The cement name is moved to Buy from Neutral at Sterne Agee.

FMC Corp (FMC): Dahlman Rose raises its rating to Buy from Hold on account of an industry wide boom in subsea processing pilot project awards this year and next.

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ): The Dow (^DJI) member, up 5.26% ahead of the open after its earnings announcement, is now Neutral from Sell at UBS, which notes improving free cash flow and reasonable valuation. Its objective is $19.

Home Depot (HD): The retailer, also in the Dow and a poor performer yesterday after a downgrade, is this morning upgraded to Outperform from Perform with a new higher target of $76 at Oppenheimer. Solid earnings upside is seen as a share-price catalyst.

Intuitive Surgical (ISRG): Shares get a Buy-from-Neutral upgrade at Goldman Sachs, which says the company can benefit from an ongoing evolution in surgical robotics. Its new da Vinci product is also seen as promising, and the price target is hiked to $715 from $591.

Morgan Stanley (MS): HSBC Securities moves its fellow financial firm to Neutral from Underweight.

J. Sainsbury (PINK:JSAIY): The British grocery giant is now Buy from Neutral at Citigroup.

State Street (STT): Jefferies juices its recommendation to Buy from Hold.

Taser International (TASR): JP Morgan moves the stun gun maker, an awful performer on Thursday, to Overweight from Neutral.

Time Warner Cable (TWC): Shares are now Outperfrom from Neutral with a $100 price objective at Macquarie.

Total System Services (TSS): Citi takes TSS to Buy from Neutral amid accelerating growth rates and a recently announced acquisition. Its target is now $26, up from $23.

Visa (V): Shares get upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Guggenheim.

WebMD Health (WBMD): Based on indications its pricing changes will improve ad trends, Stifel Nicolaus boosts the stock to Buy from Hold with a $26 price target.

Yamana Gold (AUY): AUY is increased to Overweight from Neutral at HSBC Securities.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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