In the day's economic news, new claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week to hit their lowest level in 2-1/2 years, according to the Labor Department, offering a glimmer of hope that the labor market was strengthening despite Januarys weak figures. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 383,000, the lowest since early July 2008.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims slipping to 410,000. The prior weeks figure was revised up to 419,000, from the previously reported 415,000.
And wholesale inventories jumped 1 percent in Decemberto their highest level in almost two years while sales rose much less than expected, according to a government report. Business inventories rose to $430.5 billion, the highest since January 2009. The gain was greater than the 0.7 percent increase forecast by analysts polled by Reuters.
Foreclosures have continued to rise in January, jumping 12 percent, and more pain is ahead, according to a report by RealtyTrac. And the average rate on the 30-year mortgage topped 5 percent this week for the first time since April. Higher rates could further hamper the struggling housing market.
Shares of Beazer Homes , DRHorton and Pulte slipped.
In other news, the Financial Times reported that the SEC is probing whether traders were using ETFs to disguise insider trading by buying or selling the whole ETF containing a stock rather than just the stock.
On the M&A front, Facebook and Google have held low-key talks about taking over Twitter, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, Facebook is considering letting its employees sell up to $1 billion of their shares to institutional investors, at a price valuing the company at about $60 billion, according to an industry blog.
And NYSE Euronext confirmed it's in advanced talkswith Deutsche Boerse about a merger that would create the world's largest exchange by revenues. In addition, Sandler O'Neill raised its price target on NYSE Euronext to $43 from $37.
The decision of the merger came shortly after the London Stock Exchange agreed to buy TMX Group, the owner of the Toronto Stock Exchange, for $3.2 billion, and follows the Singapore Exchange's bid for Australia's ASX in October 2010.
Verizon started selling Apple's iPhone, ending rival AT&T's three-year exclusivity on the device in the U.S.
EBay shares jumped more than 7 percent after the online auction giant said it expects revenue at its PayPal unit to double by 2013 as it seeks to itself as a reinvented company and an innovator at the center of e-commerce.
Shares of credit card providers MasterCard , Visa and AmEx also advanced.
And Wells Fargo's former CFO Howard Atkins stands to walk away from the company with deferred compensation, pension benefits and stock grants valued at $27.21 million, CNBC has learned.
Coming Up This Week:
THURSDAY: Earnings from Kraft and Expedia.
FRIDAY: International trade, consumer sentiment, Nokia analyst day; earnings from Discovery Communications.
More From CNBC.com: