Time Warner Soars on a Potential Merger and Yum! Brands Drops After Earnings

Stocks finished higher today as merger news once again stole headlines and put investors in a buying mood. For the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average  (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) finished up 77 points, or 0.5%, hitting a new record at 17,138. The S&P 500, meanwhile, gained 0.4%, and the Nasdaq moved just 0.2% higher. 

The big M&A news today came out of Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox  (NASDAQ: FOXA  ) , which made a splash with its $80 billion unsolicited stock-and-cash offer to by Time Warner  (NYSE: TWX  ) , the parent of HBO, Warner Bros., and the Turner group of cable networks. Time Warner shares jumped 17% even as management responded to the offer with an unqualified "no," refusing to even hold talks with Fox to discuss a merger. In its response to the offer, Time Warner's management said it was confident that its strategic plan would "create significantly more value" for shareholders. Media tie-ups have become popular this year as companies fight over limited spectrum and content becomes more valuable with the popularity of streaming. Among the big-name mergers this year have been AT&T and DirecTV, and Comcast and Time Warner Cable, though both deals are pending regulatory approval. A Time Warner-Fox merger would also face stiff regulatory hurdles, but investors seem to expect a second offer from Fox as reports say Murdoch has no plans to back down. Fox finished down 6% on the news.

The Federal Reserve's beige book report, or its overview of the economic conditions in its 12 districts, said that growth was "modest" to "moderate" in June and early July as consumer spending picked up. The central bank found positive growth in most individual sectors around the country, providing the latest data point to show the economy picking up speed.

After hours, shares of Yum! Brands  (NYSE: YUM  ) were off 2% as the fast-food giant came up short of expectations in its quarterly report. The KFC parent said same-store sales continued to recover at its China locations, rising 15%, after a food-safety scare caused a sharp drop in sales last year. In India, however, comps fell 2% against an expected gain of 1.6% as the company grew its store base by 25% in the world's second-biggest country. Revenue increased 10% to $3.2 billion in the quarter, short of estimates at $3.25 billion, while earnings per share improved 30% to $0.73, but also missed expectations by a penny. CEO David Novak said the company was on its way to delivering 20% EPS growth this year and was making investments to ensure continued bottom-line growth, as the company plans to open 700 restaurants this year in China and a record 1,250 and other foreign countries, most of which are in emerging markets. Given that the long-term growth plan is fully intact, I wouldn't be too concerned about the slight miss today.

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