Mitt Romney, whose Bain gave birth to Staples (SPLS) in the '80s, will be troubled at that stock's 7.17% slide, but his warning against the Fed's sugar high has proved prescient. Like most painful sugar plunges, this one started at about 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon and when it was done the Dow (^DJI) had endured its worst day since February 4. Office Depot (ODP) and OfficeMax (OMX) each imploded after a merger announcement so botched even Michael Scott couldn't make it up. They teamed up after concluding the era of the brick and mortar superstore is over.
Try telling that to a surging Google (GOOG), which this morning finally received its first $1,000 price objective. Apple Inc. (AAPL) tumbled 2.42% on news Foxconn Technology (FXCNY) was freezing hiring. Bad news for shareholders of the former, welcome news for workers at the latter. Sporting-goods stocks offer some respite, with Nike (NKE) just upgraded and Adidas (ADDYY) hitting the highest level in its history. Generations of adolescent males in Europe know the German giant by the mnemonic "All Day I Dream About…Soccer." (Yes soccer; get your mind out of the gutter.)
We get a trifecta of economic data today at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, with January leading indicators and existing home sales, plus the Philadelphia Fed Index for February, all due at that time. In earnings action, Allianz (AZSEY), American International Group (AIG), AXA Group (AXAHY), BAE Systems (BAESY), Chesapeake Energy (CHK), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Nordstrom (JWN), Safeway (SWY), Swiss Re (SSREY), and Wal-Mart (WMT) are all expected to release results.
AerCap (AER): AER is added to the Top Picks List at FBR Capital.
Anglo American (AAUKY) Jefferies juices the mining giant to Buy from Hold.
Aviva (AV): The life insurance outfit gets boosted to Outperform from Neutral by BNP Paribas.
Barclays (BCS): Citing a new strategy and increased transparency, Sanford Bernstein boosts the British bank to Outperform from Market Perform.
Brandywine Realty (BDN): Shares are moved to Market Perform from Outperform with Wells Fargo.
Bruker Corp. (BRKR): Bank of America-Merrill Lynch lifts the life science firm to Neutral from Underperform.
Credit Card Companies: MasterCard (MA) and Visa Inc. (V) are each upgraded to Neutral from Sell at UBS, whose respective price objectives are now $519 and $156.
Electronic Arts (EA): EA is increased to Outperform from Neutral at Macquarie on high hopes for a new console cycle and digital opportunities. The target price, previously $15, is taken to $23.
Groupon (GRPN): The daily deal website gets an Overweight-from-Neutral upgrade at Piper Jaffray, which is impressed with its improved international growth and takes its target to $8 from $5.50. Shares are up as a result in today's pre-market trading.
NetSpend (NTSP): NTSP is now Neutral from Sell at Goldman Sachs.
Nike (NKE): The athletic apparel outfit, which just suspended its contract with troubled track star Oscar Pistorius, is upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup.
Questcor Pharmaceuticals (QCOR): Mizuho moves the stock to Buy from Neutral, taking its target price up to $41 from $28. Current earnings forecasts are seen as conservative, and concerns regarding Acthar reimbursement appear to be overdone.
UnitedHealth (UNH): The newest Dow (^DJI) member is upgraded to Outperform from Perform at Oppenheimer, which also increases its price objective by $3 to $66. A diversified product portfolio and improved pricing outlook are among the positives.
US Airways (LCC): JPMorgan lifts LCC, in the process of merging with American Airlines, to Overweight from Neutral.
Ventas Inc. (VTR): Shares are upgraded to Neutral from Underperform at Macquarie.
(See also: New Stock Coverage: High Fives for Arm Holdings and Stock Downgrades: Cutting the Cord on VeriFone)