Dow manages gain at end of mixed day

Blue chip average musters up advance at end of choppy session in which investors eyed seesawing oil prices, drop in manufacturing index, M&A news.

By Alexandra Twin, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- Blue chips rose and the broader market was little changed at the end of a choppy session on Wall Street Monday, in which investors weighed seesawing oil prices, a weak read on manufacturing and a spate of corporate deals.

The Dow Jones industrial average (up 24.54 to 12,378.89, Charts) and the broader S&P 500 (up 3.61 to 1,424.47, Charts) index both gained around 0.2 percent, according to early tallies. The Nasdaq (Charts) composite ended little changed.


U.S. light crude oil for May delivery rose 7 cents to settle at $65.94 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, giving back bigger gains. Prices have been on the rise recently amid worries about the conflict with Iran, the world's No. 4 exporter.

Stocks had swayed on both sides of unchanged throughout the session as investors weighed the competing influences.

Trading volume was moderate, as investors geared up for the start of Passover. Stock markets are closed Friday for Good Friday.

Here's a look at what was moving near the close.

Stocks were mixed Friday at the end of an upbeat month and a volatile quarter on Wall Street. The new quarter started off on a quiet note, as investors welcomed the day's deals news, but held back a bit at the start of a big week for economic reports.

The first report of the week was not entirely encouraging.

The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index fell to 50.9 in March from 52.3 in the previous month, just short of forecasts for a drop to 51.

Prices paid, the report's inflation component, jumped to 65.5 percent from 59 in February.

"It's a mixed day today," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners. "M&A activity is plentiful, but the ISM was negative, and that's rekindling fears about the economy."

A slowing economy paired with higher inflation, as the ISM report seemed to indicate, would be particularly troublesome for the Federal Reserve to manage and for stock investors to handle.

First Data (up $5.59 to $32.49, Charts) agreed to be bought for $429 billion in cash by private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. However, the credit card and payment processor also said it plans to actively seek other bids. First Data shares jumped 21 percent in active New York Stock Exchange trading. (Full story).

In other deals news, real estate developer Sam Zell has won the bidding war for newspaper publisher Tribune (up $0.69 to $32.80, Charts) in a $13 billion deal. Tribune also said it would sell the Chicago Cubs after the 2007 season as a means of cutting debt. (Full story).

Xerox said it is buying Global Imaging Systems (up $9.14 to $28.64, Charts) for $1.5 billion in cash, sending shares of the regional printer up 47 percent. Xerox (up $0.19 to $17.08, Charts) shares were little changed. (Full story).

Additionally, EMI Group has struck a deal with Apple's iTunes to sell its music catalog without so-called anti-piracy protection, known as DRM restrictions. Apple (up $0.74 to $93.65, Charts) shares rose on the news. (Full story).

Altria Group (up $2.35 to $68.25, Charts) said late Friday that it has completed its spin-off of Kraft Foods. Kraft (down $0.85 to $30.81, Charts) shares slumped Monday in active trade on its first day as an independent company. Altria shares gained.

Merck (up $0.78 to $44.95, Charts) shares jumped on weekend news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted approval for its diabetes treating pill, Janumet.

In other news, New Century Financial, the most high profile example of the subprime mortgage lending meltdown, filed for bankruptcy protection Monday morning. Shares of New Century (down $0.15 to $0.92, Charts) slumped 15 percent.

Market breadth was mixed. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners topped losers 9 to 7 on volume of 710 million shares. On the Nasdaq, decliners topped advancers four to three on volume of 860 million shares.

Investors also kept an eye on oil prices.

COMEX gold for June delivery rose $2.50 to $671.50 an ounce.

Treasury prices were little changed, with the yield on the 10-year note at 4.64 percent, roughly where it stood late Friday. Bond prices had seesawed throughout the session.

In currency trading, the dollar slipped modestly versus the euro and the yen.

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