Stocks higher following takeover deals

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NEW YORK -- Wall Street eked out a modest gain Tuesday as investors, wary about the upcoming release of the Federal Reserve minutes, bought cautiously amid a series of new takeover deals and upbeat consumer confidence figures.

Stocks drew support from news that a consortium of banks led by Royal Bank of Scotland PLC said it will bid 71.1 billion euros, or $95.5 billion, for the Netherlands' ABN Amro, besting an offer from Barclays PLC. Other takeover news included an announcement that Tishman Speyer Properties and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. are buying Archstone-Smith Trust for at least $13.5 billion.

But trading was erratic with the minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting scheduled to be released Wednesday. The minutes could provide some insight into future interest rate moves. Wall Street also digested strong consumer confidence data, and a report on housing prices.

"It's a bit of a wishy-washy day ... People are starting to get their sea legs back after a long weekend," said Joe Ranieri, managing director in equity trading at Canaccord Adams.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 14.06, or 0.10%, to 13,521.34.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2.38, or 0.16%, to 1,518.11, while the Nasdaq composite index gained 14.87, or 0.58%, to 2,572.06.

Bonds fell after the consumer confidence data, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.89% from 4.86% late Friday. Yields have remained higher in recent sessions as fixed-income investors bet the Fed won't lower rates in the near future.

Most on Wall Street hope the economy is growing fast enough to stoke companies' U.S.-based businesses, but not so quickly that it would prevent the Fed from lowering rates later in the year. On Tuesday, the consumer appeared strong; the Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 108.0 in May, up from a revised 106.3 in April and above the average analyst estimate. Also, the Dallas and Chicago Federal Reserves both reported expansions in regional manufacturing activity.

But the housing sector looked weak after the Standard & Poor's housing index indicated that U.S. home prices declined 1.4% in the first quarter compared to a year ago, the first time since 1991 that prices posted a quarterly drop.

"The rise in consumer confidence during the month is really quite impressive in the face of the record highs in gasoline prices," said Georges Yared, chief investment strategist for Yared Investment Research.

U.S. retail gasoline prices have eased slightly from their record high of $3.227 a gallon, on average, but remained high Tuesday at $3.201, according to AAA. Crude oil futures plunged $2.05 to $63.15 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In response, Exxon Mobil Corp., one of the 30 Dow components, fell 89 cents to $82.62.

After it was reported that Archstone was being bought, the stock rose $6.19, or 11%, to $61.42.

Engineering and construction company URS Corp. said it will buy competitor Washington Group International for $2.6 billion. Washington Group rose $15.07, or 21.5%, to $85.04, and URS rose $2.38, or 5.1%, to $49.27.

The technology sector, which has been weaker than the rest of the stock market in recent months, got a boost Tuesday after Vodafone Group PLC said it narrowed its full-year loss. U.S. shares of the world's biggest mobile phone company rose $1.14, or 3.7%, to $31.70.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by almost 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.41 billion shares.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 7.60, or 0.92%, at 837.53.

The dollar slipped against other major currencies, and gold prices climbed.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.48%. Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.55%, Germany's DAX index was up 0.54%, and France's CAC-40 was down 0.25%.
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