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US STOCKS-Wall St flat near multi-year highs, M&A helps

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

* Equities have been hovering around current levels for two weeks

* Heinz shares rally, Berkshire and 3G Capital to buy

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

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

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, Feb 14 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Thursday as investors found few reasons to keep pushing prices higher with major averages near multi-year highs, though a flurry of merger deals kept indexes steady.

Wall Street has rallied lately, with the S&P 500 briefly hitting its highest intraday level since November 2007 in Wednesday's session. Still, there are few obvious catalysts to continue the rally, and while the S&P is on track for its third straight day of gains, none of those daily gains was more than 0.2 percent.

Shares of H.J. Heinz Co jumped 20 percent to $72.40 after it said Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital will buy the food company for $72.50 a share, or $28 billion including debt. Berkshire's class B shares rose 1.3 percent to $99.22.

Also supporting the market was data showing the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected in the latest week. The CBOE Volatility index fell 1.4 percent, dropping to 12.8.

"While I'm not bearish, I don't see many upside motivations at these levels," said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York, who cited the low level of the VIX as a sign the market was overbought.

"We need to digest some of our gains to go higher, but people are so eager to buy on the dips that we're not even seeing dips anymore. People are just chasing the market higher."

Equities have struggled to break above their current levels, where they have been hovering for almost two weeks. The S&P 500 is up more than 6 percent so far this year.

Stocks fell earlier after a report the euro zone's gross domestic product contracted by the steepest amount since the first quarter of 2009. In addition, Japan's GDP shrank 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, crushing expectations of a modest return to growth.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 10.21 points, or 0.07 percent, at 13,972.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 1.21 points, or 0.08 percent, at 1,521.54. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 1.12 points, or 0.03 percent, at 3,197.99.

Constellation Brands soared more than 38 percent to $43.93 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. U.S. shares of AB InBev gained 5.1 percent to $92.72.

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 9.1 percent to $13.32.

Weakness in Europe contributed 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 1.3 percent to $20.87.

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 2.8 percent at $27.88.



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