* Caterpillar higher after fourth-quarter results
* S&P 500 coming off eight straight sessions of gains
* Bargain hunters may look at Apple following recent drop
* Indexes: Dow up 0.1 pct, S&P 500 flat, Nasdaq up 0.2 pct (Updates to market open)
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, Jan 28 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were flat on Monday, with investors reluctant to make big bets following an extended equity rally, though strong data and results from Caterpillar kept a positive tone in markets.
The S&P 500 is coming off a streak of eight sessions of gains, the longest winning streak for the index in eight years. On Friday, it closed above 1,500 for the first time in more than five years.
Caterpillar Inc rose 1.8 percent to $97.24 after the Dow component reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations, though revenue was slightly below forecasts. The heavy machinery maker also said it expects China’s economy to improve, though not at the rates of 2010 and 2011.
The results continued the trend of major firms posting strong quarters, contributing to major averages rising for four straight weeks.
“You can’t find more of a global bellwether than Cat, and people are pleased with the number, which suggests there could be less concern about slowing growth in China after this,” said Wayne Kaufman, chief market analyst at John Thomas Financial in New York.
Thomson Reuters data through Friday showed that of the 147 S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far, 68 percent exceeded expectations. Since 1994, 62 percent of companies have topped expectations, while the average over the past four quarters stands at 65 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 18.07 points, or 0.13 percent, at 13,914.05. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was down 0.07 points, or 0.00 percent, at 1,502.89. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 7.25 points, or 0.23 percent, at 3,156.97.
The S&P 500 on Friday closed at its highest since Dec. 10, 2007, and the Dow ended at its highest since Oct. 31, 2007. Over the past four weeks, the S&P has jumped 7.2 percent, suggesting markets may be vulnerable to a pullback if news disappoints.
Durable goods jumped 4.6 percent in December, a pace that far outstripped expectations for a rise of 1.8 percent.
“We continue to have a parade of better-than-expected economic reports. All-in-all it’s a good picture. I think there’s a good chance we’ve reached a point of recognition where people don’t think the economy will crater,” Kaufman said.
In addition to earnings, equities have also risen on an agreement in Washington to extend the government’s borrowing power. On Monday, Fitch Ratings said that agreement removed the near-term risk to the country’s ‘AAA’ rating.
Previously, the agency said the lack of an agreement would prompt a review of the sovereign rating.
In company news, Keryx Biopharmaceuticals Inc said a late-stage trial of its experimental kidney disease drug met the main study goal of reducing phosphate levels in blood, sending shares up 43 percent to $4.91.
Bargain hunters may look to Apple Inc in the first session after the tech giant lost its coveted title as the largest U.S. company by market capitalization to Exxon Mobil Corp. Apple rose 0.7 percent to $443.06.
On Friday, Apple’s market cap fell to $413 billion, down roughly $250 billion from its September peak. Apple’s fall is about equal to the entire value of Google Inc.
“Apple is pretty attractive right now, so you may see an opportunity here,” said Chris Bertelsen, who helps oversee $1.5 billion as chief investment officer of Global Financial Private Capital in Sarasota, Florida. “Those who think the stock is dead have made a big mistake.” (Editing by W Simon, Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)