Stocks gain slightly on quiet day

Investors nudged US stocks into positive territory, thanks in part to another round of corporate couplings.

US stocks made meagre gains on a quiet day (AP)
US stocks made meagre gains on a quiet day (AP)

Three proposed acquisitions, including medical device maker Medtronic's 42.9 billion-dollar bid for rival Covidien, helped the market eke out a slight gain for the second trading day in a row.

Homebuilding stocks also got a boost from a survey showing that US homebuilders' outlook on the housing market improved this month.

Stocks mostly hovered between small gains and losses through much of the day as traders monitored the conflict in Iraq and considered its potential impact on oil prices.

Major US stock indexes were down in premarket trading, but began to rebound within the first hour as investors bid up shares in Ireland-based Covidien. The stock jumped 14.73 dollars, or more than 20%, to 86.75. Medtronic shed 67 cents, or 1.1%, to 60.03.

"Merger Monday clearly gave a lift to the market," said Joe Peta, managing director at Novus.

Two other deals also drew heightened interest from traders.

Williams Cos hit an all-time high after the pipeline operator agreed to buy a part of natural gas processor Access Midstream Partners for nearly six billion dollars. Williams vaulted 8.84, or 18.7%, to 56.02.

TW Telecom climbed 2.65, or 7.3%, to 38.99 after the internet provider agreed to be acquired by Level 3 Communications for about 7.3 billion, including debt. Level 3 shares fell 1.79, or 4.1%, to 42.30.

The market was still heading for a loss in the final hour of trading, then recovered within the last 10 minutes.

All told, the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.62 points, or 0.1%, to 1,937.78. The index is down less than 1% from its most recent all-time high of 1,951.27 set a week ago.

Seven of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index rose, led by utilities.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 5.27 points, or 0.03%, to 16,781.01. The Nasdaq composite gained 10.45 points, or 0.2%, to 4,321.11.

The three stock indexes are all up for the year.

Bond prices were flat. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note held steady at 2.60%.

The market has been sluggish in recent months, even as investors have had more than a few geopolitical concerns to worry about. Earlier this year, it was currency concerns in Turkey and then the fallout from Russian-Ukraine tensions. Last week, the insurgency in Iraq erupted, causing a spike in oil prices.

Still, the day-to-day market swings have been mostly minor.

Monday was the 41st day in a row that the S&P 500 did not move 1%, one way or the other, Peta noted.

"That lack of volatility is something we have not seen since 1995," he said. "You can call it complacent, or non-volatile or sluggish, but certainly this is a different environment than we've seen for quite some time."

At the same time, a flurry of merger news has helped lift stocks in recent weeks, a trend that underscores that stocks are not seen as expensive right now.

"Companies are looking to redeploy cash, looking to hopefully ignite growth through acquisition," said Sean Lynch, managing director of global equity for Wells Fargo Private Bank.

There was also encouraging news on the housing market.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index rose this month to the highest level since January. The latest report suggests homebuilders' confidence in the housing market is improving. Homebuilder stocks rose, led by LGI Homes, which added 60 cents, or 3.4%, to 18.24.

Investors will be looking ahead this week to what the Federal Reserve will say on Wednesday, when it wraps up its latest two-day meeting of its policymaking committee.

"Where we'll see risk injected (into the market) will be if there's anything but a rubber stamp of the Fed waiting until next year to raise rates," he said.