Stocks closed the week on a positive note, but gains were limited, as investors kept one eye on the simmering conflict in Iraq. All three major indexes finished the day up 0.3% as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) added on 42 points. Oil prices also hit a nine-month high on the Iraq concerns, climbing to $106.77.
In today's economic news, the Producer Price Index showed wholesale prices falling by 0.2% in May after a jump of 0.6% in April, which may just be a correction after outsized growth in April, as food prices soared in that month. While it's surprising to see prices falling, the PPI shows that inflation continues to be under control, which should ease any concerns the Fed may have about overstimulating the economy. Elsewhere, the preliminary reading of the University of MIchigan consumer confidence index showed the gauge at 81.2, falling slightly from June's total of 81.9, and missing estimates of 82.9. It was a three-month low for the index, but consumer confidence remains relatively strong, though concerns about Iraq and higher fuel prices may be weighing on the average American.
Among stocks making headlines today was Express (NYSE: EXPR ) . Shares jumped 21% after private equity firm Sycamore Partners said it was interested in acquiring the struggling apparel retailer. In a regulatory filing, Sycamore revealed it had accumulated a 9.9% stake in Express, and it sent a letter to the retailer expressing its interest in taking the company private. In response, Express established a special committee to "determine its best course of action," and adopted a shareholder rights plan, also known as a poison pill, to dissuade Sycamore, or another investor, from acquiring more than a 10% stake in the company. Express has stumbled upon tough times as same-store sales dropped 10% in its last quarter and it lowered its guidance, and the retailer has also missed earnings estimates in it last three reports. In recent years, Sycamore has taken clothing chains such as Hot Topic and Talbot's, private so the two may be a perfect match. Considering the steep sales declines Express has faced, a buyout may be the best option for shareholders.
Elsewhere, OpenTable (UNKNOWN: OPEN.DL ) rocketed 48% higher after priceline.com snatched up the reservation specialist for $2.6 billion. Priceline shares fell 3% on the day, perhaps a reflection of the steep premium it paid. The acquisition gives the online travel leader an avenue in the restaurant industry, as airline and hotel reservations have become highly competitive, and provides it with ready-set relationships with more than 23,000 restaurants. OpenTable generates revenue by charging restaurants $1 every time a diner makes a reservation through its system. Priceline has risen to a valuation of more than $60 billion, in large part due to acquisitions of companies such as Kayak and Booking.com, so OpenTable should continue its strong growth under its auspices. The news also sent shares of Yelp up 13% as investors speculated that the business-review site could be an attractive acquisition target, as well.
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