Stocks Flat Amid Warnings, Mergers

Stocks ended narrowly mixed Tuesday amid a slew of profit warnings from companies like Nucor, Hot Topic and Biomet, while investors uneasily eyed oil prices that hovered at the $59 per barrel level.

The Dow Jones industrial average (search) fell 9.44, or 0.09 percent, to 10,599.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (search) was down 2.49, or 0.2 percent, at 1,213.61, and the Nasdaq composite index (search) gained 2.94, or 0.14 percent, to 2,091.07.

Chip stocks rose after Lehman Brothers raised its rating on the semiconductor sector to "positive" from "neutral."

"The Lehman upgrade is giving technology stocks an uptick simply because nothing else is going on," said Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. "But we are transfixed on oil with $65 a barrel just a heartbeat away. There are a few earnings warnings here and there."

One day after reaching record highs, crude oil futures fell below $59 per barrel, but the historically high prices were still weighing on investors' enthusiasm for stocks. A barrel of light crude settled at $58.90, down 47 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search).

Some analysts were cheered that stocks have yet to sell off despite higher oil prices, though there are growing worries about whether the market will be able to sustain its gains from May and June should oil prices remain at these levels.

"What we've seen yesterday and today is some hesitancy, some skepticism on the part of investors as to whether the current rally can continue" due to high oil prices, said Ken Tower, chief market strategist for Schwab's CyberTrader. "It's tough to generate a lot of enthusiasm."

While previous spikes in oil prices prompted major selloffs on Wall Street over the past year, relatively strong economic data and a continuing stream of merger and acquisition deals have limited the selling thus far.

Bonds posted a strong rally after Monday's selloff, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.05 percent from 4.11 percent late Monday. The dollar was mixed against major foreign currencies, while gold prices fell from Monday's three-month highs.

"You're seeing some bond movement, which kind of brings a little bit of movement to stocks, but really, there's not much going on," said Bryan Piskorowski, market analyst with Wachovia Securites. "There's no real economic data, not a lot of earnings, nothing really here to guide us aside from oil."

Commodity stocks were among the market's biggest losers as investors collected profits after the sector's recent move higher. Metals stocks were hit hardest as Nucor Corp. (NUE) issued a second-quarter profit warning, lowering its forecasts due to weak demand and falling prices. Nucor dropped $2.55 to $50.68, while rival Commercial Metals shed $1.51 to $25.62.

Time Warner Inc. (TWX) shares rose for a second consecutive day on the belief the company is less likely to bid for Cablevision Systems Corp.'s cable operations. Time Warner's shares rose 2.2 percent to $17.50.

Appliance maker Maytag Corp. (MYG) is being courted by two such private investment groups. The company agreed to a $14 per share takeover last month, but its board said late Monday it would review a $16 per share offer by another private group backed by Chinese appliance manufacturer Haier Group. Maytag rose 83 cents to $16.06 on the news.

Unocal Corp. (UCL) climbed $1.38 to $64.85 on word that Chinese petroleumn company CNOOC Ltd. may issue a $20 billion takeover bid which would surpass Chevron Corp.'s $16.7 billion offer for the company, made in April. Chevron (CVX) slumped 56 cents to $58.78.

Ford Motor Co. (F) added 6 cents to $11.17 after The New York Post reported interest from a number of private equity groups in a possible acquisition of Ford's Hertz car-rental subsidiary. Ford announced last week that it planned to spin off Hertz.

In earnings news, grocery chain Kroger Co. (KR) saw its quarterly profits rise 12 percent from a year ago and beat Wall Street's profit forecasts by 6 cents per share. The company also increased its outlook for future earnings. Kroger surged 10 percent, or $1.76, to $19.45.

Homebuilder Lennar Corp. (LEN) rose $1.34 to $63.41 after the company posted a 21 percent jump in earnings and beat analysts' profit expectations by 20 cents per share. Strong sales and record backlog of housing orders prompted the company to raise its 2005 profit forecasts as well.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by nearly 7 to 6 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 143.14 million shares, compared to 144.89 million traded at the same point on Monday.

On the New York Stock Exchange, 1.29 billion shares changed hands, below the 1.46 billion daily average for last year. On Nasdaq, about 1.58 billion shares traded -- below the 1.81 billion daily average last year.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 0.80, or 0.12 percent, at 641.04.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.05 percent. In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 closed up 0.2 percent, France's CAC-40 climbed 0.68 percent for the session, and Germany's DAX index gained 0.46 percent.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.