Stocks were barely holding onto small gains in afternoon trading Monday. Corporate merger news and an encouraging survey of homebuilders helped lift the market even as traders monitored the growing insurgency by Sunni militants in Iraq and its implications for global oil prices.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index was flat at 1,936 as of 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average edged up six points to 16,783. The Nasdaq composite added four points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,314.
ACQUISITION PRESCRIPTION: Covidien soared 20.7 percent after the Ireland-based medical device manufacturer agreed to be bought by U.S. competitor Medtronic. The deal is the latest in a series of acquisitions by medical-device manufacturers. Covidien rose $14.94 to $86.97. Medtronic fell 73 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $59.92.
ENERGY MARRIAGE: Williams Companies rose $8.78, or 18.6 percent, to $55.97 after announcing a deal to expand its stake in Access Midstream Partners.
THE QUOTE: "Companies are looking to redeploy cash, looking to hopefully ignite growth through acquisition, so we see some of that this morning," said Sean Lynch, managing director of global equity for Wells Fargo Private Bank.
BAD REVIEW: Biotech company Vertex Pharmaceuticals sank 7.7 percent, the steepest decline among stocks in the S&P 500 index. Investors pummeled the stock after Bernstein published a harsh critique of a trial involving the company's cystic fibrosis treatment, Kalydeco. Vertex shed $5.66 to $67.83.
BOX-OFFICE BLUES: DreamWorks Animation fell $3.10, or 11.3 percent, to $24.25 after the debut of its film "How to Train Your Dragon 2" failed to take top honors at the North American box office over the weekend. "Dragon" opened in second place with $50 million in ticket sales domestically. It also landed the top spot overseas.
ROSIER OUTLOOK: The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index rose to highest level since January. The latest report suggests homebuilders' confidence in the housing market is improving and lifted homebuilder stocks. UCP Inc. led the pack, adding 29 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $13.80.
SUPREME BLOW: The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Argentina's appeal of judgments ordering it to pay more than $1.3 billion to hedge funds that hold some of the country's bonds. The high court also ruled that the bond holders could use American courts to force Argentina to reveal where it owns property around the world. The decisions sent Argentina's Merval stock index down 7.9 percent.
WAIT AND SEE: Traders watched developments in Iraq with an eye on the Obama administration's next move as Sunni militants extended their violent advance. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the Obama administration is open to discussions with Iran over the crisis and is considering airstrikes to slow the insurgency.
OIL: The price of crude dipped slightly after rising sharply since last week as Iraq's insurgency strengthened. Oil rose slipped 17 cents to $106.72 a barrel. Oil has risen 3.9 percent this month.
SECTOR SPOTLIGHT: Five of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index posted gains, led by utility stocks.
BOND WATCH: In U.S. government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year note held at 2.60 percent.