US STOCKS-Wall St flat as investors look ahead to Yellen

Mon Feb 10, 2014 2:12pm EST

* S&P 500 coming off best two-day gain in four months

* McDonald's falls after January same-store sales data

* Hasbro rallies after results, upbeat comments

* Indexes: Dow down 0.1 pct, S&P 500 flat, Nasdaq up 0.3 pct

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, Feb 10 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Monday as investors digested recent market gains and looked ahead to new Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's first testimony before lawmakers.

Yellen's first test as chair of the Federal Reserve comes Tuesday when she faces U.S. lawmakers, some hostile to the central bank, who will want to know how committed she is to winding down the Fed's support for the economy.

The U.S. central bank's accommodative monetary policies have been credited with fueling the market's steep gains in 2013, and are expected to keep a floor under equity prices for as long as they continue.

The Fed first announced a slowing in the bond-buying program in December, followed by another one in January. If it changes the pace of tapering, it may raise concerns that the economy is still not strong enough to strengthen on its own. The January payroll report, released on Friday, raised concerns about the pace of growth when it came in sharply under expectations, though that was partly affected by bad weather.

"We're hoping to hear Yellen strike a balance where she recognizes that the recovery is fragile, but not so much that the Fed changes its mind, which would be too premature of a signal to send," said Leo Grohowski, chief investment officer at BNY Mellon Wealth Management in New York.

McDonald's Corp reported a decline in U.S. January same-store sales, though global sales were above expectations. Shares fell 0.9 percent to $95.09.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 17.67 points, or 0.11 percent, at 15,776.41. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 0.34 points, or 0.02 percent, at 1,796.68. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 13.47 points, or 0.33 percent, at 4,139.33.

The S&P 500 is coming off its best two-day performance in four months, which capped the index's first weekly gain in the past four. Those gains were preceded by the index's sharpest pullback in months.

"Last week investors received a wake-up call that 2014 is unlikely to be like 2013 in terms of the return or the smoothness of the ride," said Grohowski, who helps oversee $185 billion in client assets. "We're still digesting last week's volatility, but investor sentiment is now neutral or negative, which is a positive for markets."

Hasbro Inc was the S&P's top percentage gainer, rising 5.9 percent to $53.03 after the toymaker reported its quarterly results and gave an upbeat outlook.

With about 69 percent of the S&P 500 having reported, 67.8 percent have topped profit expectations, above the long-term average of 63 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. Almost 66 percent have topped revenue forecasts, above the historical average of 61 percent.

CNA Financial Corp said it would sell its life and group insurance business, while parent Loews Corp reported a bigger quarterly loss, hurt by impairment charges. CNA gained 7 percent to $42.43 while Loews lost 4.6 percent to $43.08 as the worst performer on the S&P 500.

Yelp Inc advanced 2.7 percent to $91.93 after the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that Internet portal Yahoo was partnering with the consumer-reviews website to beef up local results in its search engine.

Apple Inc rose 1.4 percent to $526.70 after Carl Icahn said in a letter to shareholders he sees no reason to persist with his proposal that the iPhone maker buy back $50 billion of its shares.

AutoNavi Holdings Ltd surged 24.5 percent to $20.60 after Alibaba Group disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had offered to buy all the shares of the Chinese digital mapping and navigation firm it does not already own.

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