CORRECTED-US STOCKS-Wall St erases earlier losses; M&A supports

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 14, 2013 19:50 hrs

(Corrects to show AB InBev, not Constellation Brands, is taking over Grupo Modelo)

* U.S. jobless claims hint at firming job market

* Berkshire and 3G Capital to buy Heinz, whose shares soar

* Constellation up after revised AB InBev-Modelo deal

* Indexes: Dow, S&P flat; Nasdaq down 0.1 pct

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK, Feb 14 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks erased earlier losses to trade flat by late morning on Thursday as a flurry of M&A deals and better-than-expected jobs data fed optimism to the market, although signs of economic weakness in Europe and Japan curbed appetite for risky assets.

Among the M&A announcements, shares of H.J. Heinz Co jumped 20 percent to $72.50 after it said Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital will buy the company for $72.50 a share, or $28 billion including debt.

Also supporting the market, U.S. data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected in the latest week. But data out of Europe showed a contraction of 0.6 percent in gross domestic product in the euro zone, the steepest for the bloc since the first quarter of 2009. Japan's GDP shrank 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, crushing expectations of a modest return to growth.

"The only reason a company buys another company is because they see an upside. Even though we are at multiyear highs, this kind of activity shows that there is more room for a rally, feeding optimism to the market," said Randy Frederick, director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.

"The jobless claims numbers were solid, and with the European market closing, the news out of Europe is pretty much done for the day."

But Frederick added the market would have to see small corrections before breaking above current levels, where indexes have been hovering for almost two weeks. The S&P 500 is up more than 6 percent so far this year, near its highest level since November 2007.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 1.20 points, or 0.01 percent, at 13,981.71. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 0.03 points, or 0.00 percent, at 1,520.36. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 2.65 points, or 0.08 percent, at 3,194.23.

Constellation Brands soared more than 31 percent to $41.80 after AB InBev's deal to take over Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo was revised to grant Constellation perpetual rights to distribute Corona and other Modelo brands in the United States. AB InBev ADRs gained 5.9 percent to $93.46.

American Airlines and US Airways Group said they plan to merge in a deal that will form the world's biggest air carrier, with an equity valuation of about $11 billion. US Airways shares fell 2.4 percent to $14.31.

Shrinking European economies translated to a 5-percent drop in revenue from the region for Cisco Systems, which nonetheless beat estimates as it reported its results late Wednesday. The company's shares slid 1.4 percent to $20.84.

General Motors Co reported a weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, also citing bigger losses in Europe alongside lower prices in its core North American market. The stock was off 0.8 percent at $28.42. (Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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