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Stock Upgrades: If It's Thursday, Microsoft Corporation Must Be Back in Favor

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

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"Few clues on timing of QE3 reduction in Fed minutes," read Reuters headline. "Investors searched for clues in what was a largely ambiguous discussion by the Fed policy makers," noted the New York Times (NYT). Thus it was that investors couldn't find any reliable pointers to what the Fed did at its meeting on July 30, oddly enough the day we learned of the death of Clue actress Eileen Brennan. As a result of the mysteriously muddled minutes, Dow Industrials (^DJI) slid for a sixth straight day in their longest losing streak since July 2012. Microsoft (MSFT) may today be grateful for Thursday but 24 hours hence, shareholders will surely be screaming, "Thank God it's Friday" after equities endured a Manic Monday on Wednesday, with blue chips first dropping 122 points, then gaining 17, before finally finishing off 105. (Tuesday Morning (TUES), which surged some 23.58%, was exempt from the overall malaise.)

Fertilizer firms endured a torrid time of it after an industry downgrade and trucking titan Paccar (PCAR) plunged 1.09% on an iffy analyst initiation. Still, it could always be worse - at least you didn't just crash into a manure truck. In other broker action, Mr. Ackman's favorite short found another fan, much to the disgust of the hedge fund heavyweight. According to his arch nemesis Icahn, Bill is nothing but a "cry baby" "little Jewish boy" who would be "beaten up" at the "tough school in Queens" Uncle Carl attended. Actually, not so much. Dude is in fact 6'3″ and could kick the Herbalife (HLF) out of me so, I'll give his pyramid scheme allegations the benefit of the doubt for now.

Today in economics, consensus calls for an increase in The Conference Board's July leading indicators index at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. In earnings action, Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), Aéropostale (ARO), Autodesk (ADSK), China Zenix Auto (ZX), Dollar Tree (DLTR), GameStop (GME), Gap Inc. (GPS), Gold Fields (GFI), Hormel Foods (HRL), Marvell Technology (MRVL), Pandora Media (P), Patterson Companies (PDCO), Ross Stores (ROST), and Sears Holdings (SHLD) are all due to report results.

Ahold (AHONY): The Dutch grocery giant gets upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan.

Brown Shoe (BWS): Susquehanna increases its investment assessment to Positive from Neutral.

Canadian Pacific (CP): Credit Suisse raises its recommendation on the railroad to Outperform from Neutral.

Exelis (XLS): The aerospace outfit gets upgraded to Outperform from Sector Perform at RBC Capital Markets.

Kayne Anderson Energy (KED): Shares are boosted to Buy from Hold with a $29 target price at Stifel, which calls it a well-managed closed end fund that currently trades at a compelling 13% discount to its estimated NAV (Net Asset Value.)

Marathon Oil (MRO): MRO is moved to Outperform from Market Perform at Raymond James.

Microsoft Corporation (MSFT): Oh, Mister Softee, why can't Mister Market commit to you? In the last month alone, it's been a case of he loves me not, he loves me, and he loves me not again. Today he loves me once more, as evidenced in the Dow (^DJI) member's Buy-from-Neutral boost at Nomura. The bank, clearly no fan of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, is moving MSFT higher this morning after saying it could potentially benefit from an increase in shareholder activism.

Precision Castparts (PCP): Wells Fargo hoists the metal fabrication firm to Outperform from Market Perform.

Royal KPN (KKPNY): The telecom name much coveted by Carlos Slim is now Neutral from Reduce at Nomura.

(See also: Stock Downgrades: Target Corporation Is in the Crosshairs and New Stock Coverage: Time to Hit the Brakes on Tesla Motors Inc?)
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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