Wall St stocks pause after rally

Comcast shares climbed after the cable provider announced late on Tuesday it had reached an agreement to buy GE’s remaining 49 per cent stake in NBCUniversal and properties including its “30 Rock” studios.

Comcast will use its $11.4bn cash as well as loans and debt to finance the deal. Shares in the company rose as high as 8 per cent but gave up gain to close at $4013 and gained 47.7 per cent over the past 12 months.

General Electric’s shares also rose, up 3.9 per cent to $23.43, after the industrial group’s chief executive Jeff Immelt said the company would use the cash from the sale to increase its return to shareholders in 2013, and to invest further in its industrial business.

Overall, US equity markets closed marginally higher after a volatile session during which the benchmark index dipped in an out of negative territory, as economic and earnings news did little to propel the stock to new highs.

In economic news, retail sales growth slowed in January, suggesting consumers were beginning to feel the pinch from the end of a payroll tax holiday. The numbers were in line with consensus forecasts.

“Markets have risen considerably over the past few weeks and in the absence of major economic news, we see a little bit of profit-taking, said Paul Zemsky, CIO of multi asset strategies at ING US Investment Management.

“With 80 per cent of companies on the S&P 500 having reported already, its unlikely any more earnings news will change the general trend, which came in better than expected,” he added.

As the earnings season wraps up with the vast majority of companies having reported, investors were mostly positively surprised by both profits and revenues. Analysts expect revenues at S&P 500 companies to grow 4.5 per cent after two straight quarters of declines, according to S&P Capital IQ, while earnings growth is expected to be 6.6 per cent.

The benchmark S&P 500 index closed 0.1 per cent higher at 1,520.33, in a volatile session. Six of the 10 main sectors were in positive territory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.3 per cent, falling below the 14,000 level of 13,982.91.

John Deere shares slipped 3.5 per cent to $90.68 even though the farm equipment maker reported record profits for the fourth quarter, as demand for its tractors in the US and Canada were driven by high commodity prices.

Cliffs Natural Resources shares plummeted 20 per cent to $29.29 after the company announced it was cutting its quarterly dividend by 76 per cent, citing falling iron ore prices. The sharp fall triggered a ban on short selling.

Dean Foods dropped 9.2 per cent to $16.70 despite the company swinging to profit and beating estimates as guidance disappointed.

Among high risers, FMC Technologies rallied 5 per cent to $50.46, after the largest US provider of subsea gear to the oil and natural gas industry beat expectations for orders last quarter and forecast record orders for the full year.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 0.3 per cent to 3,196.88 led by gains in a number of large companies.

Amazon shares attracted buyers, with the price rising 4.2 per cent to $269.47 after the largest online retailer announced it was expanding its content licensing agreement with CBS to increase the number of TV series and shows on its Amazon Prime service.

Netflix shares also rose, up 4.7 per cent to $186.23. The online video streaming company has launched its own video series, “House of Cards”, which is offered free of charge to its subscribers. The chief executive on Tuesday said the show has been the most watched on Netflix.

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