Wall St up as drug deals bolster sentiment

Trader Gregory Rowe, left, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. File photo / AP
Trader Gregory Rowe, left, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. File photo / AP

A raft of merger and acquisition activity in the global drug sector helped underpin equities on both sides of the Atlantic, as did better-than-expected earnings from companies including Netflix and Travelers.

Shares of Allergan soared, last up 15.3 per cent, after Canada's Valeant Pharmaceuticals offered to buy the company in a deal worth some US$46 billion. Separately, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, and Eli Lilly also announced deals.

"The Novartis-Glaxo deal and rumours about a potential AstraZeneca acquisition by Pfizer are giving the pharma sector a decent run," Witold Bahrke, a senior strategist at PFA Asset Management in Copenhagen, told Bloomberg News. "It's also fuelling further M&A expectations, which is helping equities today. The yo-yo market is set to continue, with ups and downs amid continued geopolitical uncertainty."

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 0.62 per cent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 0.68 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 1.18 per cent.

Gains in shares of Home Depot and JPMorgan Chase, up 2.4 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively, led the Dow higher.

Shares of Facebook rose, last up 3.1 per cent, after Credit Suisse upgraded the stock to "outperform".

Solid quarterly earnings helped lift shares of companies including Netflix, Comcast, United Technologies and Travelers, respectively up 5.9 per cent, 2.3 per cent, 1 per cent, and 0.4 per cent.

To be sure, it wasn't all good news. Shares of McDonald's slipped 0.2 per cent after the company posted another quarterly decline in sales.

On the housing front, a National Association of Realtors report showed that existing home sales fell 0.2 per cent to an annual rate of 4.59 million units, the lowest level since July 2012. It was still better than economists had anticipated and provided reason for optimism that the housing market is stabilising.

"The negative housing momentum, which was exacerbated by severe weather conditions during the winter months, may be starting to fade," Gennadiy Goldberg, an economist at TD Securities in New York, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, demand for a US Treasury auction of US$32 billion of two-year notes drew lacklustre demand in a sign that the Federal Reserve has not managed to alleviate concerns it might lift borrowing costs sooner than anticipated.

"A weak auction shows the market has lost some confidence in the Fed's ability to clearly articulate its message," Thomas Simons, a government-debt economist in New York at Jefferies, one of the primary dealers that are required to bid at the auctions, told Bloomberg News before the sale. "When the Fed will ultimately raise rates remains a big question."

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index ended the day with a 1.4 per cent increase from the previous close. The UK's FTSE 100 gained 0.9 per cent, while France's CAC 40 rose 1.2 per cent, and Germany's DAX rallied 2 per cent.

- BusinessDesk

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