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Ahead of the Bell: Noble Energy cut to "Neutral"

NEW YORK (AP) -- A Sterne Agee analyst on Monday cut his rating for Noble Energy Inc. to "Neutral," saying that while the five-year growth plan announced last week is "impressive," it's already properly factored into the stock's price.

Tim Rezvan, who also removed his $109 price target for the stock, said the Houston-based energy company's long-term prospects look good, but its profit predictions for the fourth quarter and 2013 were lower than he expected.

"With two international projects coming on line in 2013, the near-term outlook will be driven more by execution than exploration," Rezvan wrote in a note to investors. "We also remain wary of the company's outsized exposure to the Middle East amid escalating tensions in the region."

The analyst said that there are other large energy companies with similar exploration prospects and more attractive share prices. He added that Noble's shares rose nearly 7 percent after the company announced its outlook on Thursday and now trade within 7 percent of his previous $109 price target.

The downgrade didn't seem to trouble early traders, who added 12 cents to lift the stock to $101.57 in premarket trading. Shares have traded between $76.83 and $105.46 in the past 52 weeks, and are up about 7.5 percent since the start of 2012.