Late Climb Lifts Wall Street

Buyers come off the sidelines after early sluggishness.
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Updated from 4:03 p.m. EDT

Stocks had a choppy session but found their footing late Monday and closed higher, spurred on by another round of merger news and lower oil prices.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

rose 42.30 points, or 0.34% to 12,318.62. The index had spent much of the day near the flat line, and earlier was down as much as 30 points.

Nineteen of the Dow's 30 components finished in the black, led by gains of 1.9% or more in

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

and

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

.

Meanwhile, the

S&P 500

ended up 3.75 points, or 0.27%, at 1406.60, and the

Nasdaq Composite

added 14.74 points, or 0.62%, to 2402.29.

Roughly 2.57 billion shares changed hands on the

New York Stock Exchange

. Advancers beat decliners by a 5-to-3 margin. Volume on the Nasdaq reached 1.60 billion shares, with winners outpacing losers 9 to 7.

Market subsector winners included the Amex Airline Index, which was higher by 1.3%. The Philadelphia Semiconductor Sector Index rose 0.9%, and the S&P Retail Index tacked on 0.5%.

Among losers, the Philadelphia Housing Sector Index fell 2.2%. The Amex Oil Index slid 0.4%, and the Philadelphia/KBW Bank Index dipped 0.1%.

"The market 'shake-up' of the past couple of weeks has done little to the top industry groups," said Paul Nolte, director of investments with Hinsdale Associates. "We expect there may be more declines ahead that are likely to force money from the top-performing sectors toward the bottom. It has happened repeatedly in the past, and we expect the future to at least rhyme."

As is often the case, the new week started with the announcement of several takeover deals. The biggest will see New Jersey's

Schering-Plough

(SGP)

pay $14.5 billion for the Organon BioSciences unit of the Netherlands'

Akzo Nobel

(AKZOY)

. Schering-Plough added 10 cents, or 0.4%, to $23.95.

Staying in the health care sector,

UnitedHealth

(UNH) - Get Report

will acquire

Sierra Health Services

(SIE)

in a deal worth $2.6 billion. Sierra, which is valued at $43.50 a share in the transaction, jumped 15.8% to end at $41.57.

Another big arrangement will see acquisitive buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts take over

Dollar General

(DG) - Get Report

for $7 billion, before the assumption of debt. Shares of Dollar General surged 25.6% to close at $21.07.

Elsewhere,

Ford

(F) - Get Report

confirmed that it will sell its Aston Martin business in a deal that values the brand at $925 million. Ford will retain a $77 million stake in the business. The automaker's shares eased 11 cents, or 1.4%, at $7.82.

As for earnings, video-game maker

Take-Two

(TTWO) - Get Report

posted a narrower-than-expected fiscal first-quarter loss. Earnings and revenue for the quarter topped the Thomson First Call consensus. Still, the stock reversed earlier strength and finished down 20 cents, or 1%, at $20.07.

Among analyst moves, UBS downgraded embattled

New Century Financial

(NEW) - Get Report

to reduce from neutral. The firm joins those who believe New Century will be forced to declare bankruptcy.

Shares of New Century, which started the year at $31.59, were halted for the session at $3.21 on the NYSE as the exchange reviewed the situation.

UBS also upgraded retailers

Kohl's

(KSS) - Get Report

and

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

to buy from neutral. Kohl's was 0.3% higher, and J.C. Penney gained 1.5%.

Away from stocks, commodity prices were weaker. Energy was on the decline, with oil slipping $1.14 to finish at $58.91 a barrel. Natural gas fell 17 cents to $6.91 per million British thermal units. Gold gave back $1.70 at $650.30 an ounce.

Treasury prices edged higher in the absence of any economic releases. The 10-year note was up 10/32 in price, yielding 4.55%, and the 30-year bond was adding 17/32 to yield 4.69%.

Overseas, Tokyo's Nikkei was up 0.8% at 17,292, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.6% to 19,442. London's FTSE 100 and Frankfurt's Xetra DAX were each lower by about 0.1%.