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US STOCKS-Wall St little changed at record levels; Merck slips

Chuck Mikolajczak
Monday, 28 Oct 2013 | 12:20 PM ET

* Merck falls after results; Biogen higher

* Pending home sales slump in Sept, housing stocks fall

* Dow off 0.08 pct, S&P 500 up 0.04 pct, Nasdaq off 0.26 pct

NEW YORK, Oct 28 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Monday as investors found few catalysts to push equities higher after the S&P 500's latest record high.

The S&P 500 has risen more than 6 percent since Oct. 8, its lowest point during the partial government shutdown and debate over raising the debt ceiling.

The gains have sent the benchmark to a series of record highs, largely on investor expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will keep stimulus measures in place for at least several months as a result of the damage done to the economy by the political wrangling in Washington.

"The Fed is not going anywhere, which is what caused the rally for the last week-and-a-half, but now the market does feel a little bit tired, it certainly feels like the market is ahead of where the fundamentals say," said Ken Polcari, director of the NYSE floor division at O'Neil Securities in New York.

"As much as everyone tells us the economy is turning around, the macro data is not supporting that, so it's confusing."

Investors could take their cue from corporate earnings as a catalyst for any further gains or pullback, with Apple Inc's highly anticipated results after the market closes, though results have been mixed thus far.

Dow component Merck & Co fell 2.7 percent to $45.30, one of the biggest drags on the Dow, after reporting a decline in sales of its Januvia diabetes treatment, raising concerns about growth prospects for its biggest product.

Biogen Idec posted a rise in its third-quarter earnings and boosted its full-year earnings and revenue outlook, sending its shares up 1.4 percent to $255.80.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 12.13 points or 0.08 percent, to 15,558.15, the S&P 500 gained 0.67 points or 0.04 percent, to 1,760.44 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 10.231 points or 0.26 percent, to 3,933.129.

Based on Thomson Reuters data through Monday morning, S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen just 3.4 percent in the third quarter.

Of the 249 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings so far, 69.1 percent beat analysts' expectations, above both the 63 percent beat rate since 1994 and the 66 percent rate for the past four quarters.

Revenue has been lackluster, however, with growth seen at 2.2 percent for the quarter. Just 53.9 percent have beaten sales estimates, below the 61 percent rate since 2002, but above the 49 percent rate for the past four quarters.

Mosaic Co agreed to buy CF Industries Holdings Inc's phosphate mining and manufacturing business for $1.2 billion in cash. Shares of CF climbed 3.7 percent to $217.37 while Mosaic edged up 0.4 percent to $46.11.

Shares of Consol Energy Inc advanced 0.5 percent to $38.34 after the company said it would sell five West Virginia coal mines for $850 million in cash, as well as $184 million in future royalty payments for coal reserves.

Housing stocks dipped as economic data showed pending home sales slumped 5.6 percent in September, a rate that was far steeper than expected and the biggest drop in more than three years.

Lennar Corp shed 1.6 percent to $36.41 and D.R. Horton Inc lost 1.4 percent to $19.50. The PHLX housing sector index HGX> declined 0.7 percent.

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MRK
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BIIB
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