Wall Street yawns as deal news offsets data; Herbalife sinks

July 28, 2014

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stocks ended nearly flat on Monday as the latest deal news offset losses following discouraging data on the housing market and some signs of weakness in the services sector.

Dollar Tree Inc offered to buy rival discount chain Family Dollar Stores Inc for about $8.5 billion. The transaction, including debt, values Family Dollar at about $9.2 billion. Family Dollar’s stock shot up 24.9 percent to $75.74 and was the S&P 500′s biggest percentage gainer. Dollar Tree’s shares gained 1.2 percent to $54.87.

Zillow Inc agreed to buy Trulia Inc for $3.5 billion in stock in a deal that would combine the two most popular U.S. real estate website operators Trulia’s shares jumped 15.4 percent to $65.04. Zillow’s stock rose 0.9 percent to $160.32.

Investors’ optimism, however, was limited by the day’s data, among the latest to suggest that momentum in some sectors of the economy was slowing.

An index of pending home sales unexpectedly fell 1.1 percent in June, the National Association of Realtors said. The report followed an 8.1 percent drop of new home sales in June, the biggest slump in almost a year. The PHLX housing sector index <.HGX> declined 1.4 percent.

Investors also turned their focus to the Fed’s meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, when the U.S. central bank’s officials could make some subtle changes to their policy statement about how and when they will eventually raise interest rates.

“What they talk about in their statement, particularly with regard to the trajectory of the economy, is going to be important to the market. So there are probably some investors on the sidelines waiting to see what might come out of that,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 22.02 points or 0.13 percent, to end at 16,982.59. The S&P 500 <.SPX> inched up just 0.57 of a point or 0.03 percent to close at 1,978.91. The Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC>, though, slipped 4.66 points or 0.10 percent, to finish at 4,444.91.

After the bell, Herbalife Ltd reported a 17 percent drop in quarterly profit. Shares of the weight-loss and nutrition products company slid 10.2 percent to $60.60 in extended-hours trading.

During the regular session, the day’s most active stocks included El Pollo Loco Holdings Inc , a restaurant chain that went public late last week. El Pollo Loco leaped 43.5 percent to close at $34.48, extending the rally from Friday, its first day of trading.

Monday’s economic indicators included preliminary data showing that activity in the U.S. services sector stayed at its highest level in 4-1/2 years in July, though readings for new business and employment growth weakened, according to financial data firm Markit.

About 5.4 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, just below the 5.5 billion average for the month to date, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

Decliners outnumbered advancers on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of 17 to 13. On the Nasdaq, about 17 stocks fell for every 10 that rose.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)

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