On The Fly: Top stock stories at midday
Stocks opened with little fanfare after yesterday's advance, but were unable to gather any upside momentum. As a result, the sellers took control and pushed the market lower. The losses have been modest, though, with the major averages lower by 0.25% or less near noon. ECONOMIC EVENTS: In the U.S., the Case/Shiller 20-City home price index showed prices rose 5.1% in June from the same period a year ago. The Conference Board's consumer confidence index for August jumped to an 11-month high of 101.1. COMPANY NEWS: Shares of Apple (AAPL) slipped near 1% after the iPhone maker was ordered by the EU to pay $14.5B in back taxes after European regulators concluded that Ireland gave the tech giant illegal tax benefits. Commenting on the decision, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said he does not expect investors to punish the stock. His peer at JPMorgan, analyst Rod Hall, goes even further, saying that he sees this tax ruling as a positive given the lack of impact on the company's going forward tax rate. For its part, Apple stated that Ireland has said they plan to appeal the Commission's ruling and that the company will do the same, adding that it is "confident that the Commission's order will be reversed"... Shares of Hershey (HSY) have plunged more than 11% after Mondelez (MDLZ) announced that it had terminated talks about a potential merger of the two companies. Multiple media reports indicated that Mondelez had raised its bid for Hershey to $115 per share last week, but that the latter said that price discussions would need to begin at $125 per share, leading Mondelez to abandon its takeover efforts... Potash Corporation (POT) and Agrium (AGU) are in talks to merge and a combination agreement could be announced as soon as next week, according to Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter. Shares of both agricultural product producers spiked following the report, after which both stocks were halted, pending news. Subsequently, both Potash Corp. and Agrium confirmed they are in preliminary discussions regarding a potential merger of equals, though each company cautioned that "no decision has been made as to whether to proceed with such a combination, no agreement has been reached, and there can be no assurance that any transaction will result" from their talks. MAJOR MOVERS: Among the notable gainers was Ritchie Bros. (RBA), which rose more than 18% after announcing an agreement to acquire IronPlanet, an online marketplace for used heavy equipment and other durable asset sales, for approximately $758.5M. The company also announced its entry into a strategic alliance with Caterpillar (CAT) that will see Ritchie Bros. become Caterpillar's preferred global partner for live onsite and online auctions. Also higher was United Continental (UAL), which gained nearly 10% after the airline named the president of American Airlines (AAL) as its new company president. The appointment is the latest management shake-up at United, following this month's appointments of a chief financial officer and chief commercial officer. Among the noteworthy losers following their earnings reports were apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), which fell 20%, and apparel maker G-III (GIII), which dropped more than 17%. INDEXES: Near midday, the Dow was down 48.25, or 0.26%, to 18,454.74, the Nasdaq was down 8.54, or 0.16%, to 5,223.79, and the S&P 500 was down 3.36, or 0.15%, to 2,177.02.