Stocks little changed; Barnes & Noble, Hertz jump

Stocks little changed as investors follow crucial Italian vote; Barnes & Noble, Hertz advance

Associated Press
Stocks drop as Italy heads for political disarray
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Trader Thomas McCauley, center, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. Stocks are opening higher on Wall Street, following the first weekly decline in the S&P 500 index this year. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were little changed on Wall Street Monday as investors followed developments in Italy's closely contested elections.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up seven points, or 0.01 percent, to 14,011 as of 11:23 a.m. EST, giving up an early gain of 81 points. The Dow is within 153 points of the record high of 14,164 it reached in October 2007.

The Standard & Poor's 500 gained two points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,525 and the Nasdaq composite advanced 10, or 0.4 percent, to 3,184.

Stocks rallied in the early going as exit polls showed that a center-left coalition in Italy that favored economic reforms in the euro region's third-largest economy was leading in the polls. That gain evaporated after another poll showed that the elections appear to be heading toward gridlock. Stocks had slumped last year on concern that Italy would become engulfed in the European government debt crisis.

On the New York Stock Exchange, Barnes & Noble rose $1.23, or 9 percent, to $14.72 after founder and chairman Leonard Riggio told the bookseller he is going to try to buy the company's retail business. Hertz advanced $1.46 to $20.19, despite posting a fourth-quarter loss, after the rental car company said that pricing improved, volume rose and it cut costs.

Stocks gained even with the threat of across-the-board automatic government spending cuts less than a week away. Some $85 billion in cuts will occur over the next seven months starting March 1, with more in following years if lawmakers can't come to an agreement on how to reduce spending in a more measured and targeted manner.

The Standard & Poor's 500 had its first weekly decline of the year last week. Investors sent stocks plunging after minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting revealed disagreement over how long to keep buying bonds in an effort to boost the economy.

Many analysts say the Fed's bond-buying program and the resulting low interest rates have been a big driver behind this year's stock rally, which lifted indexes to their highest levels since 2007.

Japanese stocks surged on reports that the prime minister's pick for central bank governor will be a strong advocate of loose monetary policy aimed at reviving the moribund economy. The Nikkei 225 gained 2.4 percent to end at 11,662.52

European stocks also advanced.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, fell one basis points to 1.95 percent.

Among other stocks making big moves:

— Drugmaker Affymax plunged $14, or 85 percent, to $2.43 after the company recalled its anemia drug following severe allergic reactions and the deaths of some kidney dialysis patients.

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