--S&P 500 grinds higher in late trading, led by energy shares
--DJIA mostly flat after European economic weakness weighs
--Raft of deals helps bolster investor sentiment
By Alexandra Scaggs
NEW YORK--Energy shares helped pull the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index higher, as optimism surrounding the sector outweighed worries about European economic weakness in a deal-heavy day.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up four points, less than 0.1%, to 13987. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index gained two points, or 0.2%, to 1523, and the Nasdaq Composite Index tacked on four points, or 0.1%, to 3201.
Energy shares led the S&P 500, adding 0.7%, as drilling and oil-services companies including Halliburton and Nabors Industries jumped 6.4% and 4.4%, respectively. Goldman Sachs Group told clients in a note Thursday that January marked "a turnaround" in profitability for the group. Elsewhere in energy stocks, coal company Alpha Natural Resources jumped 14% after its latest results beat Wall Street expectations. Meanwhile, Peabody Energy, another coal company, advanced 4.6%.
In deals news, H.J. Heinz soared 20% after the company agreed to be acquired by an investment group including Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and private-equity firm 3G Capital in a deal valued at $28 billion, including debt. Berkshire's Class B shares edged up 1.2%.
Fellow food companies Kraft Foods Group, General Mills and Campbell Soup also rose, gaining 1%, 2.1% and 1.7%, respectively.
US Airways Group fell 7.3% after the air carrier and AMR, the parent of American Airlines, formally announced merger plans, which are expected to be completed by the third quarter. Its shares had been rising in recent weeks.
Hank Smith, chief investment officer of Radnor, Pa.-based Haverford Trust, was heartened by news of the deals. "There is so much cash [available] ... With the lack of fear-inducing headlines, some confidence is starting to emerge" that deals won't fall flat, said Mr. Smith, whose firm oversees $6.5 billion in assets.
In other deals news, Constellation Brands surged 36% after agreeing with rival Anheuser-Busch InBev on revised terms of A-B InBev's divestiture of Grupo Modelo's U.S. assets in which Constellation will be granted perpetual rights for the Corona and Modelo beer brands in the U.S. Constellation will also buy the rest of Crown Imports it doesn't already own. Anheuser-Busch InBev shares climbed 5.9%.
Artio Global Investors jumped 34% after agreeing to be acquired by the U.K.'s Aberdeen Asset Management for $175 million.
In the economic arena, initial claims for U.S. jobless benefits were better than expected, falling more than expected during the latest week from the previous week.
European markets were broadly lower, with the Stoxx Europe 600 falling 0.2%, after euro-zone gross domestic product contracted more than expected in the fourth quarter. The bloc's two largest economies, Germany and France, also shrank by more than expected. Germany's DAX index dropped 1% and France's CAC-40 shed 0.8%.
European economic weakness "continues to be worrisome," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist with Janney Montgomery Scott, which oversees $2.6 billion in its asset-management arm. "I think it put pressure on equity markets here in the U.S."
Asian markets generally rose as the Bank of Japan left its monetary policy unchanged and said the economy appeared to have stopped weakening. That helped offset data showing Japan's GDP contracted slightly in the fourth quarter, versus expectations of a slight increase.
Japan's Nikkei Stock Average gained 0.5%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index, which reopened after an extended holiday weekend, rose 0.9%. Mainland Chinese markets remained closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Crude-oil futures for March delivery rose 0.3% to settle at $97.31 a barrel, while gold futures for February delivery pulled back 0.6%, to settle at $1,634.70 a troy ounce. The dollar advanced against the euro and edged lower against the yen. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to settle at 2.000% as prices rose.
In other corporate news, Dow component Cisco Systems fell 1.1% after the networking company reported better-than-expected second-quarter earnings but provided a somewhat downbeat outlook amid continued economic weakness in Europe and uncertainty surrounding government spending.
General Motors declined 2.9% after the car maker's earnings fell just short of analyst expectations.
PepsiCo gained 1% after the beverage and snack company reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings and revenue and announced an increase in its quarterly dividend.
Angie's List surged 25% after the reviews-based website reported a surprise fourth-quarter profit and provided a first-quarter revenue outlook that was above projections.
Stamps.com slumped 14% after the Web-based postage-services company's fourth-quarter earnings topped estimates but revenue and its 2013 outlook missed forecasts.
Zillow leapt 8.4% after the real-estate website reported a fourth-quarter profit versus expectations of a break-even quarter, along with better-than-expected revenue.
-Write to Alexandra Scaggs at [email protected]