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Thursday's analyst upgrades and downgrades

Employees of Canadian Pacific Rubiales Petroleum Co. work at an oil excavation pipe at Campo Rubiales field in Meta, eastern Colombia, in a file photo.

JOSE MIGUEL GOMEZ/REUTERS

Inside the Market's roundup of some of today's key analyst actions. This file will be updated during the trading day. For breaking analyst actions prior to market open every day, read our Before the Bell morning report.

Several analysts have raised their price targets on Apple Inc. after the tech giant easily beat Street forecasts in reporting first-quarter earnings late Wednesday while announcing plans for a stock split and more share buybacks.

Earnings per share of $11.62 compared with Street estimates of $10.17, while sales of $45.6-billion surpassed the consensus call for $43.7-billion. Apple raised its quarterly dividend by 8 per cent, announced a seven-for-one stock split, and said it will raise its share buyback plan by $30-billion.

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Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley raised his price target to $610 (U.S.) from $600 as he reiterated a "buy" rating.

"With stronger iPhone sales than anticipated due to share gains in China and other emerging markets combined with continued strong iOS, Mac, and iTunes ecosystem growth, we believe Apple has a strong base with greater channel reach for anticipated second half calendar year 2014 product launches including the iPhone 6," Mr. Walkley commented in a research note.

"While our survey work indicates the iPhone will likely lose share over the next several months to refreshed Android products, we believe Apple will win back meaningful high-end market share during the second half of this calendar year based on our belief new iPhones with larger screen sizes will create a stronger than normal upgrade cycle among Apple's loyal and growing customer base," he added.

Elsewhere, Goldman Sachs raised its price target on Apple to $620 (U.S.) from $610 and maintained a "buy" rating. Bank of America raised its target to $615 from $590. And Credit Suisse raised its target to $560 from $500 as it maintained a "neutral" rating.

The median price target among analysts for Apple is now $624, up from $600 a month ago, according to Thomson Reuters data as of noon ET today. There are 16 strong buy ratings for Apple, 23 buy ratings, 13 hold ratings, and two sell ratings.

Shares in Apple opened up 7.5 per cent on Nasdaq to $563.

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RBC Dominion Securities analyst Nathan Piper said a big increase in operating costs could erode investor sentiment toward Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp., a stock that increased by almost 40 per cent in two months.

Mr. Piper downgraded the stock to "sector perform" from "outperform" after the company, which is the largest private oil producer in Columbia, reported an increase in first-quarter operating expenses of up to 25 per cent from the previous quarter.

"Although production guidance for FY14 remains unchanged we think the cost increase could impact recent positive investor sentiment," Mr. Piper said.

Mr. Piper cut his price target to $21 (Canadian) from $23. Credit Suisse also dropped its price target to $17 from $18 and reiterated a "neutral" rating. The average analyst price target is $24.28, according to Bloomberg data.

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Further production cuts at Sterling Resources Ltd. will squeeze finances in coming quarters, said RBC Dominion Securities analyst James Hosie.

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Underperformance of the company's key asset, the Breagh gas field in the U.K. North Sea, which came online late last year, is forcing Sterling to consider divestments to meet its financial obligations.

Management is looking to offload half of its stakes in licences in offshore Romania. "More radical action may be required," Mr. Hosie said. "In our view, proposed divestments in Romania may be not be enough to avoid further financial challenges in 2015."

Mr. Hosie believes a sale of Sterling's UK business is needed to relieve the company's financial constraints.

Mr. Hosie reduced his price target to 80 cents (Canadian) from $1, while maintaining a "sector perform" rating. The average analyst target is 98 cents, according to Bloomberg data.

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A recent visit to AuRico Gold Inc.'s Young Davidson mine in Ontario has reinforced Raymond James analyst Phil Russo's view of a stock with serious growth potential.

While AuRico's capital spending plans are higher than Mr. Russo's initial estimates, he believes the cost is not a punitive one, and should be ably funded by AuRico's current balance sheet.

"For a growth story such as AuRico, price to net asset value is the appropriate metric in our view, and given the attributes of this name -- Canadian located asset, strong liquidity of about $340-million, year-on-year growth, potential M&A candidate, and long life asset  -- there are few names that tick this many boxes for investors," he said.

Mr. Russo maintains his "outperform" rating and lowered his target price slightly to $5.25 (U.S.) from $5.50.  The analyst consensus price target over the next year is $5.60.

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At least eight analysts raised their price targets on Crescent Point Energy Corp. in the wake of the company announcing it would acquire CanEra Energy, a private southeast Saskatchewan oil producer, for about $750-million in cash and stock.

The acquisition boosts its reserves in the Torquay formation - which lies beneath the prolific Bakken shale.

"The assets are perfectly complimentary to existing CPG assets," commented Dundee Securities analyst Brian Kristjansen, adding that the deal will boost his 2014 and 2015 cash flow forecasts by 5 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively.

He raised his price target to $52.50 (Canadian) from $51.50 and reiterated a "buy" rating. The median analyst price target is now $50, up from $47.50 a month ago.

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In other analyst actions:

BMO Nesbitt Burns downgraded Canadian National Railway to "market perform" from "outperform" due to the recent stock rise, as it kept a $68 (Canadian) price target.

CIBC World Markets upgraded Total Energy Services to "sector outperformer" from "sector performer" and hiked its price target to $25.50 (Canadian) from $23.50. It cited the stock's recent share price underperformance versus others in the sector and valuation.

Dundee Securities upgraded Agnico-Eagle Mines to "buy" from "neutral" but cut its price target to $40 (Canadian) from $42.

TD Securities downgraded Calfrac Well Services to "buy" from "action list buy" but raised its price target to $47 from $44.

TD Securities downgraded Shawcor to "hold" from "buy" but raised its price target to $55 (Canadian) from $53.

Several analysts have raised their price targets on Facebook, including Canaccord hiking its target to $75 (U.S.) from $70; Jefferies raising its target to $85 from $80; Deutsche Bank hiking its target to $85 from $76 and maintaining a "buy" rating; and Credit Suisse raising its target to $90 from $87 while affirming an "outperform" rating.

Goldman Sachs upgraded Goodyear Tire & Rubber to "conviction buy" from "buy" and raised its target to $36 (U.S.) from $33.

UBS upgraded Ciena to "buy" from "neutral" and raised its price target to $27 (U.S.) from $25.

UBS raised its price target on Texas Instruments to $49 (U.S.) from $45 and maintained a "neutral" rating.

Credit Suisse raised its target on Northrop Grumman to $128 from $115 and maintained a "neutral" rating.

For more analyst actions, breaking investing news and analysis, follow Darcy Keith on Twitter at @eyeonequities

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