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Level 3 shares rise on CEO's plans to step down

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of Level 3 Communications Inc. rose Thursday on hopes that a new CEO could help the Internet and telecommunications company improve its business.

THE SPARK: Level 3 said James Crowe will transition out of his current role by the end of the year. The company's board will begin a search for a new leader.

THE BIG PICTURE: Crowe has served as Level 3's CEO since 1997, a year before its 1998 initial public offering. He's been a member of its board since 1993.

Level 3 shares have dropped 15 percent in the past 12 months. It's posted 16 straight quarterly losses and has been cutting jobs as it works to integrate its $2 billion acquisition of long-distance telecommunications provider Global Crossing from 2011.

THE ANALYSIS: The news prompted Raymond James analyst Frank Louthan to boost his rating for the stock to "Market Perform" from "Underperform."

Louthan said a new CEO could potentially accelerate a shift away from Level 3's wholesale services and come up with a strategy to better take advantage of data center assets.

"We believe the market will look ahead to this change and the stock can trade better than it has recently," Louthan wrote in a Thursday note to investors.

THE SHARES: Up $1.02, or 5 percent, to $21.41 in heavy afternoon trading. Over the past 52 weeks, the stock has traded between $16.36 and $27.99.