Stocks on Wall Street were higher at midday as a busy week for corporate earnings kicked off. With 159 companies in the S&P 500 index scheduled to report first quarter earnings this week, the averages have been fairly range bound as investors appear content to proceed cautiously ahead of the deluge. However, if the benchmark index can end the day in positive territory it will mark the first time this year that the S&P closed higher in five consecutive sessions.
ECONOMIC EVENTS: In the U.S., the Chicago Fed national activity index fell to 0.20 in March, matching the consensus forecast. The Conference Board’s index of leading indicators rose 0.8% in March, beating the consensus forecast for an increase of 0.7%.
COMPANY NEWS: Shares of AstraZeneca (AZN) rallied over 5% after the Sunday Times, a British newspaper, said that its U.S. peer Pfizer (PFE) had considered acquiring the company. According to the report, Pfizer had sought to buy AstraZeneca for more than 60B British pounds, or around $100B. Recently the two companies have held informal talks, but AstraZeneca is resisting a deal, the newspaper added. Two other peers recently having discussed a merger, according to The Wall Street Journal, are miners Barrick Gold (ABX) and Newmont Mining (NEM). Shares of the smaller of the two, Newmont, were up 5% despite the Journal having said Friday that talks had broken down. The news paper stated in an update last night, however, that Barrick could decide as early as today whether it wants to pursue further discussions… Shares of oilfield services company Halliburton (HAL) were up more than 2% near midday and hit a new 52-week high earlier in the session after the company’s first quarter results topped analysts’ consensus estimates. Meanwhile, Kimberly-Clark (KMB), which makes products ranging from Kleenex tissues to Huggies diapers, slid a bit over 1% after its revenue was below expectations, though the company’s adjusted earnings per shares were a penny ahead of the consensus forecast.
AJOR MOVERS: Among the notable gainers was Sarepta Therapeutics (SRPT), which surged 44% after announcing plans to submit a New Drug Application to the FDA by the end of this year for the approval of eteplirsen for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, or DMD. Following the announcement, the stock was upgraded at both William Blair and JMP Securities. Also higher was Cbeyond (CBEY), which rose 39% after Birch Communications agreed to acquire the company in an all-cash transaction valued at about $323M. Among the noteworthy losers was MoneyGram (MGI), which tumbled for a second straight day after Wal-Mart (WMT) announced that it was launching its own money transfer service. MoneyGram’s 14% slide today comes after the stock dropped by more than 18% on Thursday following Wal-Mart’s announcement. Also lower following its earnings report after Thursday’s closing bell was athenahealth (ATHN), which fell 5%.
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