(For more market insights, including options activity, click on ; for the Day Ahead newsletter link.reuters.com/mex49s; for the Morning News Call newsletter, link.reuters.com/nex49s) U.S. stocks edged lower on Thursday after a round of mixed economic data left traders guessing how soon the Federal Reserve would begin to wind down an asset-purchase program that has helped equities rally. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.31 percent at 15,839.74, the S&P 500 was down 0.35 percent at 1,786.61 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 0.11 percent at 4,033.381.
** MICROSOFT CORP, $37.825, -2.86 pct
Ford Motor Co Chief Executive Alan Mulally, who was seen as a top contender to replace Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, told Bloomberg TV that he “loved serving Ford and there is no change in the plan.”
Ford Director Edsel Ford II told Bloomberg that Mulally would stay at the automaker through 2014. (link.reuters.com/paz25v)
** J.C. PENNEY CO INC, $8.86, -8.28 pct
Hedge fund firm Hayman Capital Management's J. Kyle Bass sold his stake in the struggling retailer, according to Bloomberg. (link.reuters.com/qaz25v)
Hayman Capital had disclosed a 5.2 percent stake in the retailer in September, but reported in November that it had reduced that to about 1.87 percent.
Earlier this week, J.C. Penney said its comparable-store sales rose in November for the second straight month.
** APPLE INC, $571.37, +1.13 pct
Billionaire investor Carl Icahn said on Wednesday that he has filed a shareholder proposal with the iPhone maker for a much smaller stock buyback plan than he has advocated previously, as he continued to pressure Apple to share more of its cash pile.
** CITIGROUP INC, $51.08, -1.84 pct
** MORGAN STANLEY, $30.4, -2.35 pct
Deutsche Bank cut its rating on the banks’ stocks to “hold” from “buy,” citing some dislocation in credit markets in the near term amid macro uncertainty over tapering of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s monthly bond purchase program. The brokerage also expressed concerns about the potential combination of widening of credit spreads, rising interest rates and its impact on cost of funding.
** SOLARCITY CORP, $54.86, +5.16 pct
The company said it would begin offering Tesla Motors -made batteries with its commercial solar systems, allowing businesses to cut what they pay to their local utility by using stored electricity.
** ELECTRONIC ARTS, $21.08, -5.64 pct
The game publisher and its Swedish unit DICE have halted development on projects related to Battlefield 4 until bugs are fixed in the online game, the company said. (r.reuters.com/jyx25v)
“Battlefield 4 is EA’s most important game of the holiday quarter, and digital updates to the game, represent a material share of high margin revenues in future quarters. Sales of the game have already been weaker than expected, and we have seen ample stock of discounted copies of the game at retail this season,” Hudson Square Research analyst Daniel Ernst said in an email to Reuters.
Ernst, who has a “sell” rating on Electronic Arts’ stock, said the company would have difficulty in achieving guidance and the bug fixes could delay the development of other games by DICE.
** OCULUS INNOVATIVE SCIENCES INC, $4.1599, -12.24 pct
The company said on Wednesday that it would offer 550,000 shares at $4 per share to select accredited investors for gross proceeds of $2.2 million.
** KROGER CO, $40.56, -2.31 pct
The biggest U.S. supermarket operator joined other retailers on Thursday in taking a cautious stance on the remainder of 2013 after it posted a lower third-quarter profit that matched estimates.
** COMBIMATRIX CORP, $3.2, +28.00 pct
The molecular diagnostics company said the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended its chromosomal microarray analysis (CMA) as the first-line genetic test in pregnancies showing fetal abnormalities.
CMA is a DNA-based method of prenatal genetic testing.
** RENESOLA LTD, $3.69, -18.54 pct
The Chinese solar products maker reported a bigger third-quarter loss due to a charge related to shutdown of a part of its polysilicon plant in Sichuan.
** GENERAL GROWTH PROPERTIES INC, $20.99, +3.50 pct
The real estate investment trust said it would replace Molex Inc in the S&P 500 after the close of trading on Dec. 9. Privately held Koch Industries Inc is acquiring Molex in a deal expected to be completed on that date.
** KORN/FERRY INTERNATIONAL, $23.97, +6.53 pct
The staffing services provider reported a better-than-expected profit for the second quarter due to a 23 percent rise in fees revenue. “The second quarter represented the strongest top line results in the company’s history,” Chief Executive Gary Burnison said in a statement.
** ANGIODYNAMICS INC, $15.58, +1.96 pct
The vascular medical device maker said it would reorganize its New York operations into a single plant in Glen Falls and a distribution center in Queensbury. The company said a loss of 80-100 employee positions is expected due to the program.
The restructuring is aimed at saving $15 million to $18 million in three years, AngioDynamics said.
** TITAN MACHINERY INC, $14.815, -7.23 pct
The farm equipment retailer’s quarterly profit more than halved and the company cut its full-year revenue and profit forecasts as equipment sales and margins declined.
** RADIAN GROUP INC,$14.58,+0.90 pct
** MGIC INVESTMENT CORP,$8.28,+2.22 pct
Goldman Sachs initiated coverage of the mortgage insurers’ stocks with a “buy” rating, saying the sector has strong secular growth outlooks in financials as the Federal Housing Administration reform drives increased demand for private mortgage insurance. The pace of credit improvement for mortgage insurers is underestimated by the market, the brokerage said.
** CHINA SUNERGY CO LTD, $7.08, +15.50 pct
The Chinese solar products maker raised its full-year total shipment forecast to 500-510 megawatts (MW) from 440-480 MW, mainly due to higher-than-expected shipments for third-party contracts and improved working capital position.
** RECEPTOS INC, $27.4, +20.70 pct
An independent data monitoring committee recommended the continuation of a mid-stage study testing the company’s drug, RPC1063, and approved the initiation of a late-stage trial for the drug following a review of interim results evaluating its use in relapsed multiple sclerosis.
** EL PASO PIPELINE PARTNERS LP, $35.5, -2.79 pct
Credit Suisse analyst J. Edwards cut his price target on the pipeline company’s stock to $38 from $45, saying he was disappointed with the company’s decision to keep its distributions flat.
“We are disappointed at the lack of growth given the ~$2 billion in dropdowns expected in 2014,” he said in a note.
** SYNOPSYS INC, $37.19, +1.89 pct
RBC raised its price target on the company’s stock to $44 from $43. The brokerage has an “outperform” rating on the stock.
Synopsys, which makes software for chip development and testing, reported a doubling of profit and an 11 percent jump in revenue for the fourth quarter on Wednesday.
** UTI WORLDWIDE INC, $16.89, +8.55 pct
The logistics company reported a smaller third-quarter loss due to higher activity at its freight forwarding and contract logistics and distribution businesses. However, overall revenue fell slightly because of lower rates.
** SMITH & WESSON HOLDING CORP, $11.975, +3.23 pct
Lake Street Capital Markets raised its rating on the gunmaker’s stock to “buy” from “hold,” saying the company is well positioned to meet or exceed expectations in the near term. The brokerage also said the growing firearms market and product innovation provide confidence in Smith & Wesson’s long-term outlook.
** BROADCOM CORP, $27.285, +1.54 pct
The wireless communication chipmaker released a bluetooth software to enable in-car connectivity with Android-powered mobile devices as a growing number of consumers look to wirelessly connect wearable smart devices in their cars using bluetooth.
The company also launched on Wednesday a bluetooth chip with wireless charging support for wearable devices such as smartwatches. According to ABI Research, over 50 million wearable devices are expected to ship in 2013 and 540 million in 2018.
** SPIRIT AEROSYSTEMS HOLDINGS INC, $32.32, +2.15 pct
Cannacord Genuity raised its rating on the aircraft parts supplier’s stock to “buy” from “hold” and said it believed the company’s new management was taking the necessary steps to improve cash flows and program execution. Spirit named Lockheed Martin Corp’s former executive Larry Lawson as chief executive in March, replacing Jeff Turner.
Citigroup started coverage on Spirit’s stock with a “buy” rating, according to Theflyonthewall.com
** PRECISION DRILLING CORP, $8.7, -9.56 pct
Alberta Investment Management Co sold its entire equity holding of about 56 million shares in the oil and gas services provider in an overnight marketed transaction.
** CVR ENERGY, $39.66, +3.58 pct
Macquarie raised its rating on the U.S. oil refiner’s stock to “neutral” from “underperform.”
** HARMONY GOLD, $2.57, -2.28 pct
** ANGLOGOLD ASHANTI, $12.13, -4.71 pct
A South African appeal court has ordered Harmony Gold, the country’s third-largest gold producer by market value, to pay for managing water pollution at mines it previously owned in South Africa’s North West province.
The provincial Department of Water Affairs had directed in 2005 that Harmony and other companies including AngloGold manage water contamination caused by mining in the area and share costs for anti-pollution measures.
** HALCON RESOURCES CORP, $4.04, +5.76 pct
Morgan Stanley raised its rating on the oil and gas company’s stock to “equal-weight” from “underweight,” citing Halcon’s raised guidance on capital expenditure and better well performance in Bakken shale, North Dakota.
** PROOFPOINT INC, $29.21, -3.76 pct
The online security service provider said on Wednesday that it would offer $150 million worth of convertible senior notes due 2018. The company said it expected to use the net proceeds from the offering for general corporate purposes, including potential acquisitions and strategic transactions.
** HOSPIRA INC, $40.91, +1.74 pct
The company entered into a settlement agreement with Sandoz Inc and Sandoz Canada Inc, two generic pharmaceuticals units of Novartis AG. Under the deal, Sandoz and Sandoz Canada will not market a generic version of Hospira’s sedative, Precedex, until Dec. 26, 2014.
** ARRIS GROUP INC, $21.21, +1.97 pct
At least three brokerages raised their price targets on the video and broadband products maker’s stock after the company said on Wednesday that cost savings from its acquisition of the Motorola Home business was higher than expected.
The company acquired the division that sells television set-top boxes from Google Inc for $2.35 billion last December.
** SPRINT CORP, $7.98, +0.38 pct
Nomura upgraded the U.S. telecom company’s stock to “buy” from “neutral” and raised its price target to $10.50 from $6, saying the company’s adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) is likely to double due to modest revenue growth and significant cost cuts.
** CELGENE CORP, $164.7799, +2.94 pct
UBS Securities upgraded the biotechnology company’s stock to “buy” from “neutral,” saying it expects positive data from a late-stage study testing the company’s drug, Revlimid, in the treatment of patients newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.
Revlimid currently holds approval for three other indications.
** SINO-GLOBAL SHIPPING AMERICA LTD, $2.35, +6.82 pct
** NAVIOS MARITIME HOLDINGS INC, $8.5, +7.87 pct
** BALTIC TRADING LTD, $5.32, +5.35 pct
** DRYSHIPS INC, $3.5401, +4.12 pct
** GENCO SHIPPING AND TRADING LTD, $2.64, -1.86 pct
** EAGLE BULK SHIPPING INC, $4.12, +0.98 pct
The Baltic Exchange’s main sea freight index, which gauges the cost of shipping bulk commodities such as iron ore, grain, coal and fertilizer, rose on Thursday, reflecting firm demand for capesize and panamax vessels. The overall index, which factors in the average daily earnings of capesize, panamax, supramax and handysize dry bulk transport vessels, rose more than 151 points, or nearly 8 percent, to 2,145 points.
** COMPANHIA SIDERURGICA NACIONAL, $5.42, +5.65 pct
Brazil’s National Transportation Agency authorized construction of four intermediate courtyards in Steel Railway. The courtyards have extensions ranging between 416 and 682 feet of each line within the right of way of the rail company MRS, a partner of Companhia Siderurgica Nacional.
** CHINA AUTO LOGISTICS INC, $5, +70.07 pct
A unit of the seller of luxury imported automobiles in China said it would buy Tianjin Zhonghe Auto Sales Service Co, the owner and operator of the Airport International Automall in Tianjin in northern China, for $91.4 million.
** WET SEAL INC, $2.74, -14.11 pct
The women’s apparel and accessories retailer reported a 6 percent fall in third-quarter sales and warned of a challenging start to the holiday shopping season, as fewer teens shopped in malls.
Wet Seal said it expected comparable-store sales to fall in the high single digits to low double digits in the fourth quarter.
** METHODE ELECTRONICS INC, $34.38, +39.42 pct
The company, whose products include touchscreens, sensors, remote controls, high-speed data cables, reported second-quarter revenue of $190.9 million, above analysts’ estimates of $168.1 million.
Methode also raised its full-year forecast for earnings to $1.70-$1.90 per share and for revenue to $720 million-$750 million. Analysts were expecting a profit of $1.48 per share on revenue of $684 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
** PUMA BIOTECHNOLOGY INC, $72.87, +57.69 pct
The drug developer said its breast cancer drug, neratinib, showed improvement when added to standard chemotherapy in the neoadjuvant setting compared with standard chemotherapy in a mid-stage study.
Neoadjuvant therapy aims to reduce the size or extent of the cancer before conventional chemotherapy is applied, making the procedure more effective.
** CLEAR CHANNEL OUTDOOR HOLDINGS INC, $9.11, -7.14 pct
B. Riley cut its rating on the billboard advertiser’s stock to “sell” from “neutral.”
** THOMPSON CREEK METALS CO $2.11, -9.44 pct
TD Securities’ analyst Daniel Earle warned that the Canadian miner appears to be running out of cash and that its molybdenum operations are unsustainable at current metal prices.
“The company’s long-term solvency is a major issue. Based on our forecasts, we expect that the company will not be able to generate sufficient cash to repay approximately $1 billion in debt maturities between 2017 and 2019,” Earle said in a note on Wednesday.
** LEHIGH GAS PARTNERS LP, $27.04, -4.45 pct
The motor fuels distributer priced its public offering of 3.1 million common units at $26.90 each, below its stock’s closing price of $28.26 on Wednesday.
** MAVENIR SYSTEMS INC, $9.81, +1.13 pct
The software maker reported a 52 percent rise in third-quarter revenue on Wednesday, helped by a rise in the number of customers.
Deutsche Bank started covering the company’s stock on Thursday with a “buy” rating, according to Benzinga.com.
** NEW YORK & CO INC, $4.51, -11.57 pct
The apparel retailer reported third-quarter results below analysts’ estimates on Wednesday, as fewer-than-expected customers visited its stores.
** COSTCO WHOLESALE CORP, $121.04, -1.57 pct
** DOLLAR GENERAL CORP, $59.56, +5.66 pct
** RITE AID CORP, $5.758, -4.03 pct
Several major U.S. retailers reported disappointing sales for November after cautious shoppers pinched their pennies at the start of a shorter holiday season. Some of the companies that reported sales gains ramped up bargains to bring in shoppers who appeared hesitant to splurge.
Dollar General said its same-store sales last quarter rose 4.4 percent, reflecting how much customers are looking to save money.
** MATTRESS FIRM HOLDING CORP, $38.5708, +12.65 pct
** TEMPUR PEDIC, $50.79, +1.14 pct
** SELECT COMFORT $20.95, +2.95 pct
Mattress retailer Mattress Firm Holding raised its full-year revenue forecast after reporting a better-than-expected 18 percent rise in quarterly sales as increased advertising helped bring customers to its stores.
Shares of mattress makers Tempur Pedic and Select Comfort also rose on the news.
** CONN‘S INC, $68.64, +17.41 pct
The retailer reported third-quarter results that beat analysts’ estimates, driven by strong sales of its home appliances, furniture, mattresses and electronics.
The company also raised its fiscal 2014 adjusted earnings forecast.
** FRANCESCA‘S HOLDINGS CORP, $16.63, -8.12 pct
The specialty retailer forecast current-quarter results below analysts’ estimates, citing a weaker start to the holiday selling season.
** SAFEWAY INC, $33.08, -3.30 pct
Activist investor Jana Partners LLC said in a regulatory filing on Wednesday that it reduced its stake in the grocer and it was pleased with the steps it has taken to exit the Chicago market and review its business.
** EQUINIX INC, $167.77, +3.70 pct
The data center service provider said it authorized a $500 million share repurchase program till the end of 2014. (Compiled by Avik Das in Bangalore; Editing by Kirti Pandey)