NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street overcame early losses to close higher yesterday as a drop in oil prices and a fresh round of acquisition activity helped boost investors’ confidence in the economy.
Gap Inc. surged on a report the retailer is considering strategic alternatives for the business, which could include a sale. There was also about $6 billion of deals announced that indicated merger and acquisition activity is off to a strong start this year after reaching record levels last year.
Low energy prices also helped stocks reverse course from losses earlier in the session. Oil prices continued last week’s decline, initiated by speculation that heating oil supplies would go unused because of a mild U.S. winter. Crude prices, now hovering at about $56 per barrel, attempted a rebound earlier in the session.
Stock trading did carry an element of caution as investors turned their attention toward fourth-quarter earnings, which start today when Alcoa Inc. posts results. Several profit warnings from several companies — including airline UAL Corp., electronics maker Molex Inc., and telecommunications firm Tellabs Inc. — prevented indexes from gaining broader momentum.
Peter Dunay, an investment strategist with New York-based Leeb Capital Management, said investors are trading conservatively ahead of earnings reports. He said the biggest thing on the horizon is “the impact any kind of profit warnings are going to have.”
“This is one of those Mondays where people are doing a bit less until we see an impetus,” he said. “The market is at an inflection point. Energy is big, but it has been down so much over the past few weeks that the fact it’s up should be scaring participants too much.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 25.48, or 0.21 percent, to 12,423.49.
Broader stock indicators advanced. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 3.13, or 0.22 percent, at 1,412.84, and the Nasdaq Composite Index added 3.95, or 0.16 percent, to 2,438.20.
Bond prices were flat in the absence of market-moving news, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note flat at 4.65 percent.
A barrel of light sweet crude fell 22 cents to $56.09 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.
There was some economic news during the session, but it had little effect on trading. Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn said in a speech that inflation data are “encouragingly consistent” with the central bank’s forecast for a gradual decline. However, he warned that it is still too early for officials to relax about price pressures.
“We’re looking at some pretty strong fundamentals with the economy, interest rates, inflation and valuation,” said Leo Grohowski, chief investment officer for U.S. Trust. “The market looks to have a fairly equity-friendly investing backdrop.”
Acquisition activity was one market driver yesterday.
Gap rose $1.37, or 7.3 percent, to $20.26 after business news channel CNBC reported the retailer hired Goldman Sachs to plot its future. The retailer could consider a buyout from a private equity company, or a potential spinoff of chains that include Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy.
Spokesmen for both Gap and Goldman Sachs refused to confirm the report.
General Electric Co. announced an agreement to acquire oil and gas fields equipment supplier Vetco Gray for about $1.9 billion. Shares of GE fell 1 cent to $37.55.
Pharmacy benefit manager Caremark Rx Inc. rose 29 cents to $56.64 after it rejected a $26 billion takeover bid from rival Express Scripts Inc. late Sunday. Caremark said it prefers a $22.2 billion offer from drugstore chain CVS Corp. Express Scripts was off 8 cents at $68.78, while CVS rose 18 cents to $31.35.
A profit warning from Molex sent shares down $1.52, or 4.9 percent, to $29.28. The electronics maker cut its second-quarter profit projection because of weaker sales and lower prices in its phone business.
Tellabs, which makes equipment for telecoms, guided its fourth-quarter revenue lower because of uncertainty in North America concerning the effect of industry consolidation. Shares fell 47 cents, or 4.4 percent, to $10.25.
However, United Airlines parent UAL picked up 25 cents to $46.80 despite saying it expected to post a loss during the fourth quarter because of snowstorms in the Midwest during December.