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Stocks Mixed on Slow News Flow

Kevin O'Shaughnessy

U.S. Market
Stocks pulled back from Tuesday's gains and sought direction at midday Wednesday.

No major economic reports were scheduled for release today, though several key indicators are expected Thursday and Friday. Volume remained well below-average, as well, on account of the holiday-shortened week.

The Dow and the Nasdaq were each 0.1% lower at midday, while the S&P 500 was flat.

Stocks on the Move
Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers (TOL) delivered solid, though not spectacular, fiscal second-quarter results. Adjusted earnings per share soared 150% on a 67% revenue increase, partly reflecting the Shapell acquisition closing early in the quarter and a substantial amount of land sales (14% of revenue) to help pay down debt from the acquisition. Operationally, Toll delivered a strong margin quarter with adjusted gross margins rising to 23.6%. Shares were up 1.8% at midday.

Nestle (NSRGY) announced the acquisition of the U.S. and Canadian commercial rights to five aesthetic dermatology products from Valeant Pharmaceuticals International (VRX) for $1.4 billion, or more than 5 times sales, which strikes Morningstar analysts as a rich price given that Valeant was likely looking to offload these assets quickly in light of its pursuit of Allergan (AGN). Nestle shares were up 0.5% at midday, while Valeant shares had lost 1%. Allergan shares were down more than 4%, though Valeant had increased its bid for the firm today, bringing the buyout proposal's value to more than $49 billion.

Foreign Markets
Stocks in Asia rose Wednesday, with the Shanghai Composite and the Hang Seng turning in gains of 0.8% and 0.6%. The Nikkei 225 was up 0.2%.

In Europe, the DAX was flat, but the FTSE 100 and the Paris CAC each rose 0.1%.