US STOCKS-Wall St flat after data, S&P on pace for 7th weekly gain

Fri Feb 15, 2013 10:28pm IST

Stocks

   

* Burger King profit jumps, shares follow

* Herbalife shares soar after Icahn discloses ownership

* Dow up 0.04 pct, S&P off 0.01 pct, Nasdaq up 0.03 pct

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, Feb 15 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Friday and the S&P 500 remained on track for a seventh week of gains after upbeat consumer sentiment data, as equities continued a phase of consolidation after a strong start to the year.

The S&P 500, up nearly 7 percent so far this year, is facing strong technical resistance near the 1,525 level. But investors, expecting the index to advance further in the quarter, have held back from locking in profits.

"The market has run awfully hard on a year-to-date basis and certainly some consolidation, a couple of percentage points of pullback, is probably at hand, probably healthy and is probably where we are," said Jim Russell, senior equity strategist for U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati.

Data released Friday illustrated the bumpy road the U.S. economic recovery continues to take.

The New York Federal Reserve said manufacturing in New York state expanded for the first time in seven months, while Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary reading of consumer sentiment rose from the prior month and beat expectations.

But data also showed U.S. manufacturing fell in January after a rise in the prior month.

"We are at a point where the macro news will continue to be a two-steps forward, one-step back kind of progression, with most of the news showing a firmness, but an occasional data point that will represent a step back," Russell said.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 5.07 points, or 0.04 percent, to 13,978.46. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index shed 0.20 points, or 0.01 percent, to 1,521.18. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 1.02 points, or 0.03 percent, to 3,199.68.

The benchmark S&P 500 is on track to register its seventh straight week of gains by the close of trading Friday, a feat not seen since a run of consecutive weekly gains between December 2010 and January 2011.

A surge in merger and acquisition activity, with more than $158 billion in deals announced so far in 2013, has given further support to the equity market as it points to healthy valuations and bets on the economic outlook.

Herbalife shares jumped 13.1 percent to $42.27 a day after billionaire investor Carl Icahn said in a regulatory filing that he now owns 13 percent of Herbalife and was ready to put it in play.

MeadWestvaco Corp climbed 10.6 percent to $35.04 as the biggest percentage gainer on the S&P index after activist investor Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management LP said in an SEC filing it had bought about 1.6 million shares of the packaging company.

Burger King Worldwide shares gained 2.4 percent to $16.98 after it beat estimates with a 94 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit, thanks to new menu additions.

Oil service stocks declined, weighed by a 5.8 percent drop in shares of Transocean to $55.89, after the rig contractor reported its fleet update and Deutsche Bank cut its rating on the stock to "sell." The PHLX oil service sector lost 1.9 percent.

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