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Stocks Flat Ahead of Fed Meeting; Merck & Facebook Falter

Dan Berman
Hot Stock Minute

Stocks closed flat ahead of the two-day FOMC meeting which begins tomorrow. The gathering will give policy makers the opportunity to begin scaling back the bank's bond-buying program, although it seems unlikely they will choose that path. Today the Federal Reserve said industrial production rose 0.6% in September. That's the largest increase in seven months and was above estimates of 0.4%. Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors says pending home sales fell 5.6% in September; lowest level since last December. There have now been four consecutive months of declines.

POLL: Will Fed's new rules effectively control leaks of policy statement?

Dow component Merck (MRK) dipped over 2% on its quarterly report. The drug maker beat on the bottom line, reporting adjusted earnings of 92-cents a share when estimates were for 88-cents. Sales however were a small miss at $11.03-billion versus $11.124-billion. Merck's profits were actually down 35% from a year ago largely on competition from generic drugs. Merck now expects its total sales for 2013 to be down at least 5%.

Biotech Biogen Idec (BIIB) rose nearly 1% and hit a record high after easily beating estimates for adjusted earnings. The company made $2.35 a share, a quarter better than expectations of $2.10 a share. That was a rise of 22% over last year, largely on strong sales of its new multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera. Biogen's revenues were also slightly higher than expected at $1.8-billion compared to estimates of $1.78-billion.

Burger King (BKW) climbed more than 5% after reporting adjusted earnings of 23-cents a share, two-cents better than estimates. Revenues were also higher than the consensus at $275.1-million versus $266.59-million. The burger chain credits climbing same-store sales overseas for the beat. Expenses are also down sharply as the company pushes forward with plans to franchising many restaurants which it currently owns.

Facebook (FB) dipped over 3% today, and briefly traded below the $50 a share mark in intraday trading. There was no clear reason for the drop. In fact Credit Suisse increased its price target on the stock to $61 citing better returns from mobile advertising. Facebook is set to report earnings on Wednesday.

Drugmaker Dendreon (DNDN) rose 11% on reports that the company is seeking a buyer. Right now Dendreon has just one marketed product, the prostate cancer treatment Provenge. So far, its sales have been disappointing. Shares of Dendreon were down 57% year-to-date prior to today's spike.

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