US STOCKS-Wall St dips but S&P on pace for 7th weekly gain

Fri Feb 15, 2013 1:01pm EST

* Burger King profit jumps, shares follow

* Herbalife shares soar after Icahn discloses ownership

* Indexes off: Dow 0.05 pct, S&P 0.09 pct, Nasdaq up 0.06 pct

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, Feb 15 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged lower on Friday as equities continued a phase of consolidation after a strong start to the year but the seven-week winning streak for the S&P 500 remained intact.

The S&P 500, up nearly 7 percent so far this year, is facing strong technical resistance near the 1,525 level. But investors, expecting the index to advance further in the quarter, have held back from locking in profits.

"It looks like a little bit of profit taking, normal consolidation after a big run and maybe we might be seeing the first signs of nervousness ahead of the sequestration debate that will most likely starting up when Congress comes back," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

The "sequestration" - automatic across-the-board spending cuts put in place as part of a larger congressional budget fight - are due to kick in March 1 unless lawmakers agree to an alternative.

Data released Friday illustrated the bumpy road the U.S. economic recovery continues to take.

The New York Federal Reserve said manufacturing in New York state expanded for the first time in seven months, while Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary reading of consumer sentiment rose from the prior month and beat expectations.

But U.S. manufacturing fell in January after a rise in the prior month.

"We are at a point where the macro news will continue to be a two-steps forward, one-step back kind of progression, with most of the news showing a firmness, but an occasional data point that will represent a step back," Jim Russell, senior equity strategist for U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 6.64 points, or 0.05 percent, to 13,966.75. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index shed 1.35 points, or 0.09 percent, to 1,520.03. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 1.77 points, or 0.06 percent, to 3,196.89.

The benchmark S&P 500 is up 0.13 percent for the week and is on track to register its seventh straight week of gains by the close of trading Friday, a feat not seen since a run of consecutive weekly gains between December 2010 and January 2011.

A surge in merger and acquisition activity, with more than $158 billion in deals announced so far in 2013, has given further support to the equity market as it points to healthy valuations and bets on the economic outlook.

Herbalife shares pared earlier gains and were up 7.1 percent to $41, a day after billionaire investor Carl Icahn said in a regulatory filing that he now owns 13 percent of Herbalife and was ready to put it in play.

MeadWestvaco Corp climbed 9.8 percent to $34.77 as the biggest percentage gainer on the S&P index after activist investor Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management LP said in an SEC filing it had bought about 1.6 million shares of the packaging company.

Burger King Worldwide shares gained 2.5 percent to $17 after it beat estimates with a 94 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit, thanks to new menu additions.

Oil service stocks declined, weighed by a 5.5 percent drop in shares of Transocean to $56.05, after the rig contractor reported its fleet update and Deutsche Bank cut its rating on the stock to "sell." The PHLX oil service sector lost 1.7 percent.

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