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Stock Upgrades: Panera Bread Rolling in Dough

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

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Markets swooned, clearly rattled by the crazy talk of a madman. But enough about Kim Jong-un; it was John Williams of the San Francisco Fed who sent shares slumping with the slightest suggestion that, heaven forfend, the economy may have to fend for itself by "sometime late this year."

Mind you, the news isn't good in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood either and the legendary investor, whose love of commodities at times approaches a fetish, can only look on in horror as gold and oil each implode. With Pyongyang on the nuclear precipice, the Philadelphia Defense Sector Index - how nice that a basket of such deadly stocks calls the City of Brotherly Love home - far outperformed equities overall. In a session dominated by an extremely dangerous banana republic, corporate owner Gap Inc. (GPS) gained an impressive 0.84%.

Elsewhere Caterpillar (CAT) had a dog day of it but Fifth & Pacific (FNP), whose Juicy Couture does a fine line in canine clothes, was in the pink to the tune of 7.63%. The prospect of stricter gun control laws, already enacted in Connecticut, send firearms firms Smith & Wesson (SWHC) and Sturm Ruger (RGR) slumping a respective 2.17% and 2.58%. This is of course "Early Morning, April 4″ when, in the words of an iconic U2 song, a "shot rang out in the Memphis sky" 45 years ago. Actually, the tragic event took place after 6:00 p.m. but maybe Bono had been at the Guinness when he wrote the lyric. After all, corporate parent Diageo (DEO) hit the highest level in its history yesterday.

It's a relatively quiet day for earnings releases, but International Speedway (ISCA) did report results earlier this morning.

Alcatel-Lucent (ALU): Shares are surging in Paris this morning on a Buy-from-Hold hoist at Deutsche Bank, whose analysts wrote in a note that "We believe [the telecom company] has the key ingredients for a potentially successful turnaround."

Brown & Brown (BRO): The insurance outfit gets a Neutral-from-Sell boost at Goldman Sachs.

CenturyLink (CTL): JPMorgan moves the stock to Overweight from Neutral.

Fast Food: Brinker International (NYSE:EAT) is upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Goldman, which adds Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA) to its Conviction Buy on account of the company's robust growth potential.

Finisar (FNSR): Lazard lifts the networking name to Buy from Neutral.

General Finance Corporation (GRN) Shares get raised to Buy from Neutral at Sidoti.

ING Group (ING): The financial stock is jumping ahead of the open after being upgraded to Outperform from Neutral by BNP Paribas.

Lattice Semiconductor (LSCC) Mizuho moves the small cap stock to Buy from Neutral, taking its target price up to $7.00 from $5.50. The bank now has greater optimism on both operating expenses and gross margins.

Niska Gas Storage (NKA): Shares are increased to Equal Weight from Underweight by Barclays.

Portugal Telecom (PT): Goldman adds the equity to its list of Conviction Buys.

Publicis Groupe (PINK:PUBGY): The French advertising and communications giant is sharply higher in Paris trading this morning after getting upgraded at Nomura, which is impressed with its digital prospects.

Tahoe Resources (TAHO): Raymond James takes TAHO to Outperform from Market Perform.

Team Health Holdings (TMH): Shares get added to the Conviction Buy list from a prior Neutral rating at Goldman.

Texas Capital (TCBI): Barclays boosts the company to Overweight from Equal Weight.

Ulta Salon Cosmetics & Fragrance (ULTA): Jefferies juices its recommendation to Buy from Hold.

Universal Display (PANL): Shares are now Buy from Hold at Needham, whose price objective is $35. A recent price pullback has resulting in a compelling current valuation, the broker believes.

Vornado Realty Trust (VNO): Stifel raises the Real Estate Investment Trust to Buy from Hold.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: Time to Go Apple Picking Again? and Stock Downgrades: Microsoft Shareholders Jumping Out of Windows.)
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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