Stocks Jump on M&A Chatter

U.S. stocks rose Wednesday, buoyed by speculation about a possible bidding war in the aluminum sector for Canada's Alcan (AL) and as retailer Target Corp. (TGT) posted stronger-than-expected profit.

Alcan Inc. said it is in discussions with third parties after it rejected an unsolicited takeover bid from U.S. rival Alcoa Inc. (AA) on Tuesday.

Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper said Alcan was in talks with global mining company BHP Billiton Ltd (BHP).

Shares of Alcoa rose to their highest in more than five years in heavy trading.

A steady stream of takeovers, record share buybacks and stronger-than-expected earnings have helped push the Dow to record after record and put the S&P 500 on track to set an all-time closing high.

The S&P 500 has crossed the 1,527.46 record closing level during the past two sessions but has so far been unable to hold on to its gains at the end of the day. The record was set on March 24, 2000 -- in the last throes of the dot-com bubble.

"There are still M&A, private equity rumors and there is a strong trend of investors who went into hibernation out of fear of volatility to put one toe after the other back into the market," said Dan Genter, president and chief executive at RNC Capital Management LLC in Los Angeles.

"Retail is also a big factor -- it is such a big part of the economy and when you have news like today that shows the consumer is still alive, that's very good for the market."

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) was up 53.07 points, or 0.39 percent, at 13,593.02, after earlier hitting an all-time high of 13,609.76.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) was up 7.28 points, or 0.48 percent, at 1,531.40. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) was up 11.12 points, or 0.43 percent, at 2,599.14.

Target's higher-than-expected quarterly earnings helped lift the lagging retail sector. The S&P Retail index has gained just a little more than 5 percent since March 14, when the market hit its low for the year, versus a rebound of more than 10 percent by the S&P 500.

The retail index advanced 1.2 percent. Target's stock rose 2.5 percent to $59.52.

Also reporting higher-than-expected earnings was health-care company Medtronic Inc. (MDT), whose stock was among the top-weighted gainers in the S&P 500.

Medtronic stock rose 5.7 percent to $53.71 on the NYSE.

Alcoa's stock rose 3.9 percent to $40.46 after hitting $40.80, the highest in more than five years, and trading volume was the fourth heaviest on the NYSE. Alcoa topped the list of the Dow's biggest percentage gainers. U.S.-listed shares of Alcan gained 4.3 percent to $84.55 on the NYSE.

In other M&A news, shares of Dow Jones & Co. rose 3.75 percent to $53.39 after the Wall Street Journal reported that members of the Bancroft family that controls Dow Jones planned a meeting to discuss News Corp.'s takeover bid.

And Payless ShoeSource Inc. (PSS) said late on Tuesday it had agreed to acquire Stride-Rite Corp. (SRR), sending shares of the children's shoe company up 31 percent to $20.24 on the NYSE. Stride-Rite was the biggest percentage gainer on the Big Board. Payless shares rose 10.7 percent to $35.31.