US STOCKS-Wall St inches higher on Fed expectations; Apple up

Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:50pm EDT

* Merck falls after results; Biogen higher

* Apple shares edge up ahead of results

* Pending home sales slump in Sept, housing stocks fall

* Dow up 0.2 pct, S&P 500 up 0.3 pct, Nasdaq up 0.1 pct

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK, Oct 28 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Monday, pushing the S&P 500 to another intraday high, with expectations high the Federal Reserve will keep its stimulus in place for the time being.

The S&P 500 has risen more than 6 percent since Oct. 8, its lowest point during the partial government shutdown and debate over raising the debt ceiling.

The gains have sent the benchmark to a series of record highs, largely on investor expectations the Fed will keep stimulus measures in place for at least several months as a result of the damage done to the economy by the political wrangling in Washington. Fed policymakers will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"You're not going to have tapering probably until March or June. Energy prices are going down, which will help the consumer discretionaries. All of that kind of bodes well for maybe a better holiday season," said Alan Lancz, president of Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc, an investment advisory firm in Toledo, Ohio.

Shares of Apple Inc, whose highly-anticipated results will come after the market closes, were up 0.9 percent at $530.70.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 25.75 points, or 0.17 percent, at 15,596.03. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 5.03 points, or 0.29 percent, at 1,764.80. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 2.57 points, or 0.07 percent, at 3,945.93.

On the down side, Dow component Merck & Co fell 2.8 percent to $45.25, one of the biggest drags on the Dow, after reporting a decline in sales of its Januvia diabetes treatment, raising concerns about growth prospects for its biggest product.

Biogen Idec posted a rise in its third-quarter profit and boosted its full-year earnings and revenue outlook, sending its shares up 2.5 percent to $258.61.

Based on Thomson Reuters data through Monday morning, S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen just 3.4 percent in the third quarter.

Of the 249 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings so far, 69.1 percent beat analysts' expectations, above both the 63 percent beat rate since 1994 and the 66 percent rate for the past four quarters.

Revenue has been lackluster, however, with growth seen at 2.2 percent for the quarter. Just 53.9 percent have beaten sales estimates, below the 61 percent rate since 2002, but above the 49 percent rate for the past four quarters.

Mosaic Co agreed to buy CF Industries Holdings Inc's phosphate mining and manufacturing business for $1.2 billion in cash. Shares of CF climbed 4.5 percent to $219.09 while Mosaic edged up 1.5 percent to $46.64.

Housing stocks dipped as economic data showed pending home sales slumped 5.6 percent in September, a rate that was far steeper than expected and the biggest drop in more than three years.

The PHLX housing sector index dipped 0.1 percent.

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