US stocks flat but propped by healthcare

US stocks ended flat yesterday, pausing after hitting record highs last week, but strength in healthcare issues helped to keep declines in check.

The S&P 500 healthcare sector climbed 0.7 per cent and was the day’s best performer.

Shares of Theravance jumped 17.9 per cent to $41.20 after Irish drugmaker Elan agreed to a $1bn deal to buy 21 per cent of the royalties that Theravance receives from GlaxoSmithKline for its respiratory drugs.

The day’s flat activity follows a third straight week of gains on the major indexes, with both the Dow and S&P 500 setting record closing highs last week. The S&P 500 remains up 14.5 per cent for the year so far.

While some analysts argue the long-term trend is still higher, many see momentum waning in the near term in the absence of positive catalysts. Volume has been lighter than average, and volatility has been low in recent days.

“Intraday volatility has essentially been nonexistent. I think it means people are really sitting on the sidelines right now seeing which way it’s going to go,” said Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners in New York.

The CBOE Volatility index ended down 0.3 per cent.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 26.81 points, or 0.18 per cent, at 15,091.68. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 0.07 points at 1,633.77. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 2.21 points, or 0.06 per cent, at 3,438.79.

Among the day’s decliners, Yum Brands fell two per cent to $68.92. After the market closed on Friday, the fast food chain operator posted a steep decline in Chinese April sales.

Helping limit the market slide, retail sales rose 0.1 per cent in April, better than the 0.3 per cent predicted drop.