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Stock Upgrades: Nike Has New Spring in Its Step

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

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February tends to be the single worst performing month in equities, but the market has thus far failed to get the memo. (And no wonder, given the current state of our Postal Service.) The S&P 500 Index (^GSPC) edged up an infinitesimal 0.31%, but good things clearly come in small packages, as that gain was good enough for its sixth straight weekly advance. The Nasdaq (^IXIC) now stands at its highest level since 2000, the year the market lost its mind as evidenced in Internet upstart AOL Inc. (AOL) buying venerable media empire Time Warner (TWX) for $182 billion.

The more things change, the more they stay the same; AOL is following Friday's 7.35% advance by adding on another 2.88% this morning after an analyst upgrade. Web mania 2.0 just witnessed a 21.23% surge in LinkedIn (LNKD), its stock now standing at a record. While champagne corks were popping all over its Mountain View headquarters, McGraw-Hill (MHP) fell off a fiscal cliff and tumbled 27%. And in a week that began with the burial of one celebrated son of the Bronx, another has done good, with Ralph Lauren (RL) rising some 9.9%.

No top-tier economic data due today, but quarterly earnings announcements are expected out of American Capital (ACAS), American Financial Group (AFG), Annie's (BNNY), CNA Financial (CNA), Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF), Loews Corp. (L), L'Oréal (PINK:LRLCY), Masco (MAS), Nielsen (NLSN), Owens & Minor (OMI), Radian Group (RDN), and TW Telecom (TWTC).

AOL Inc. (AOL): The recently-reviving equity gets upgraded to Outperform from Sector Perform at RBC Capital, which also increases its objective by $5 to $45. An improving revenue growth outlook and a growing user base are among the positives, and AOL is advancing 2.88% ahead of the open as a result.

Astronics (ATRO): Citing sustainable margins in the aerospace business, KeyBanc increases its investment opinion to Buy from Hold and assigns a price objective of $30.

Banco Bilbao (BBVA): The Spanish bank is moved to Neutral from Underweight at JPMorgan.

Buckeye Partners (BPL): Citigroup lifts the limited partnership to Neutral from Sell on account of its positive operating momentum and improved balance sheet. The new target is $55, up from $49.

Crédit Agricole (PINK:CRARY): BNP Paribas raises its fellow French financial to Outperform from Neutral.

Graphic Packaging (GPK): GPK gets a Buy-from-Hold hoist at Deutsche Bank.

H.B. Fuller (FUL): Deutsche Bank boosts the specialty chemicals company to Buy from Hold.

Knight Transportation (KNX): KNX is now Buy from Hold at KeyBanc, whose target price is $19. Catalysts include heightened confidence in a low-single digit industry rate increase.

Kroger (KR): Goldman Sachs gives the supermarket stock a Neutral-from-Sell upgrade. Among the favorable factors are gradually accelerating grocery spending and potential M&A (Mergers and Acquisition) activity as an industry consolidator. Its target is $27.

Lukoil (PINK:LUKOY): The stock is lifted to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan.

Nike (NYSE:NKE): Shares are now Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan, which also takes its target to $64 from $50 amid optimism over impressive top-line growth, signs of stabilization in China, and stock buybacks. The stock is up 2.34% ahead of today's opening bell as a result.

Questar (STR): The stock is moved to Equal-Weight from Underweight at Morgan Stanley.

Renasant Corp. (RNST): Regional bank RNST is raised to Outperform from Perform by Keefe Bruyette.

Royal KPN (PINK:KKPNY) Société Générale hoists the Dutch telecom titan stock to Hold from Sell.

Tesco plc (PINK:TSCDY): BNP Paribas takes the British grocery giant to Neutral from Underperform.

Tesoro (TSO): The oil refiner is lifted to Buy from Neutral at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.

VMware (VMW): Shares are increased to Overweight from Equal Weight at Evercore amid an increasingly attractive valuation.

Wells Fargo (WFC): Impressed with the bank's superior profitability, high quality franchise, and strong management team, Stifel Nicolaus raises its recommendation to Buy from Hold with a $42 objective.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: Cosi Set to Make Some Serious Bread? and Stock Downgrades: Elan Losing Its Panache.)
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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