* West holds off on more severe sanctions against Russia
* Facebook buys Oculus for $2 billion; shares fall
* King Digital falls in trading debut
* Clinical lab shares rise after GOP files Medicare bill
* Dow up 0.2 pct; S&P 500 up 0.2 pct; Nasdaq off 0.2 pct
(Updates to midday)
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, March 26 U.S. stocks mostly edged
higher on Wednesday as geopolitical tensions over Ukraine
appeared to ease and the latest U.S. economic data pointed to
improving conditions, though investors found few reasons to push
shares up substantially.
Russia and the West drew a tentative line under the Ukraine
crisis after U.S. President Barack Obama and his allies agreed
to hold off on more damaging economic sanctions unless Moscow
goes beyond the seizure of Crimea, as Russian President Vladimir
Putin said last week that he didn't want to do.
The development seemed to limit the odds that the biggest
East-West conflict since the Cold War could escalate further,
removing a potential headwind from markets. While few U.S.
companies have direct exposure to the region, investors had been
worried about any fallout from prolonged tensions.
"I would be shocked if there was any kind of escalation now,
which eliminates some of the concerns people had and forces the
market to focus back on the economy, where recent data has been
lending credence to the theory that some recent issues were
related to weather, not fundamentals," said Malcolm Polley,
president and chief investment officer of Stewart Capital
Advisors in Indiana, Pennsylvania.
Orders for durable goods rose more than expected in
February, ending two straight months of declines. Another report
showed private-sector economic activity accelerated in March at
a faster clip than in February as the services sector picked up,
according to financial data firm Markit's preliminary composite
Purchasing Managers Index.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 33.78 points,
or 0.21 percent, at 16,401.66. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index
was up 4.26 points, or 0.23 percent, at 1,869.88. The
Nasdaq Composite Index was down 7.12 points, or 0.17
percent, at 4,227.15.
The stock of King Digital Entertainment Plc, maker
of the wildly popular "Candy Crush Saga" game, fell 10.4 percent
to $20.16 in its trading debut on Wednesday, after the company's
initial public offering valued it at about $6 billion. King was
the most actively traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Facebook Inc said late Tuesday it would buy Oculus VR
Inc, a maker of virtual-reality glasses for gaming, for $2
billion. The acquisition follows Facebook's $19 billion deal to
buy WhatsApp in February. Shares of the social networking
company fell 3.3 percent to $62.77.
Healthcare stocks ranked among the strongest of the day,
with the S&P healthcare sector index up 1 percent.
Tenet Healthcare shares gained 6.8 percent to $41.55.
Many names in the group rose a day after Republicans filed a
new bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to avert a pay cut
for doctors who participate in the Medicare health program for
the elderly and disabled.
"Assuming that this bill gets passed, this should provide a
relief point from what has been a significant overhang on
[clinical lab] shares," analysts at International Strategy &
Investment Group wrote in a note to clients.
Quest Diagnostics Inc was one of the S&P 500's
biggest percentage gainers, up 5.6 percent at $58.01, followed
by Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings, up 5.4 percent
Insmed Inc shares slid 12.8 percent to $15.96 after
the company said its only experimental drug failed to meet the
main goal of a mid-stage trial on patients with a form of
bacterial lung infection.
In the corporate arena, Toyota Motor Corp
said it will buy back up to 1.89 percent of its shares worth up
to $3.5 billion in the automaker's biggest buyback in more than
a decade. Toyota's U.S.-listed shares rose 2.9 percent to
Clothing company PVH Corp, which owns such brands as
Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, late Tuesday issued an adjusted
full-year profit forecast that beat expectations. Shares rose
5.2 percent to $123.33.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jan Paschal)