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Stock Upgrades: Staples Set for More Paper Profits

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

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On the day we learned that Wall Street had lost a giant, and with due recognition to a 5.76% jump in "big and tall" retailer Casual Male (DXLG), yesterday was all about the little people. OfficeMax's (OMX) elves left the building having their pockets lined with a 20.93% stock surge, while the Russell 2000 (^RUT) small cap index attained another record high.

Some stocks did miss out on all the fun, with telecom titan Vodafone (VOD) tumbling 2.39% on a ratings reduction. Presumably analysts are afraid its products are being used to turn the air blue with curse words. Given that Herbalife (HLF) hosts a conference call with Wall Street today at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, that's a real risk.

This afternoon at 2:00 p.m., the Federal Open Market Committee will release the minutes to its January 29-30 meeting. Corporate earnings activity sees announcements out of Akzo Nobel (PINK:AKZOY), BHP Billiton (BHP), Cheesecake Factory (CAKE), Crédit Agricole (PINK:CRARY), Devon Energy (DVN), Dish Network (DISH), Fluor (FLR), Garmin (GRMN), KBR, Inc. (KBR), MGM Resorts (MGM), and Toll Brothers (TOL).

AFLAC (AFL): Raymond James raises its rating on the insurance outfit to Outperform from Perform.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN): The biotech gets a Buy-from-Neutral lift at Lazard.

Daimler AG (PINK:DDAIF): Morgan Stanley moves the Mercedes-Benz owner to Equal-Weight from Underweight.

Iconix Brand Group (ICON): ICON is increased to Strong Buy from Market Perform at Raymond James.

Meredith Corp. (MDP): The media empire, on something of a tear of late, is taken to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup with press reports indicating its publishing unit may merge with most of Time Warner's (TWX) comparable division. Citi says considerable cost savings could accrue, potentially sending the stock to as high as $63.

PNM Resources (PNM): Shares are now Outperform from Neutral with a $24 price objective at Robert W. Baird, which cites reduced business risk and improving financials as upside drivers.

Royal Bank of Canada (RY): Shares get an Equal Weight-from-Underweight boost by Barclays.

Société Générale (PINK:SCGLY): HSBC Securities hoists its fellow financial firm to Overweight from Neutral, sending shares up in today's European trading.

Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS): The office supply stock, yesterday's top S&P 500 (^GSPC) performer with a 13.13% surge, is up another 5.2% before the bell after getting upgraded to Neutral from Sell at Citigroup. Industry consolidation and potential store closings are each seen as catalysts, and the target price goes to $16 from $10.

(See also: New Stock Coverage: Adobe a Flash in the Pan? and Stock Downgrades: Sirona Dental Braces Itself for Bad News.)
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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