U.S. stocks little changed as Heinz deal tempers economy concern

Consumer Bets

Heinz rallied $11.90 to $72.38 and Berkshire Hathaway’s Class A shares jumped 1.3% to $149,676, heading for a record closing high.

Buffett’s Berkshire and 3G Capital agreed to buy Heinz as the billionaire chairman increases his bets on consumer products. The buyers will pay $72.50 a share, compared with yesterday’s closing price of $60.48, according to a statement. The deal is valued at about $28 billion including debt.

Other consumer stocks gained. Campbell Soup Co., the world’s largest soup maker, climbed 1.9% to $38.91 while General Mills Inc., the maker of Cheerios cereal, advanced 3.2% to $44.34.

Constellation surged $11.99 to $43.87. InBev, the world’s biggest brewer, offered to cede full control of Corona distribution in the U.S. to Constellation for $2.9 billion after U.S. regulators sued to block its purchase of Grupo Modelo. Constellation will gain Modelo’s brewery in Piedras Negras, which is located in Mexico near the Texas border, and perpetual rights for the Corona and Modelo brands in the U.S., Leuven, Belgium-based AB InBev said.

US Airways slipped $1.25 to $13.41 after the company said it will combine with AMR’s American Airlines to create the world’s largest carrier. AMR’s bankruptcy creditors will own 72% of the new company, and US Airways stockholders will get 28%.

‘Gear Aggressively’

About $145.8 billion of deals have been announced in the U.S. this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That already surpassed the total of $99.6 billion during the first two months of 2012.

“Corporate America is a little more optimistic,” Ted Harper, who helps manage about $8 billion for Frost Investment Advisors LLC in Houston, said by phone. “Companies have repositioned, they have become far leaner and are looking for opportunities to deploy capital incrementally for growth. They’re looking to gear a little more aggressively.”

About 74% of the 386 companies in the S&P 500 that have released results so far in the quarter exceeded profit projections. Sixty-seven percent have surpassed sales estimates, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Phone stocks fell the most among S&P 500 groups, sinking 2.2%. CenturyLink Inc. plunged 22% to $32.42 after cutting its dividend by 26% to 54 cents a share and forecasting first-quarter sales that missed analysts’ estimates.

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