Feb. 19 - Summary of business headlines: Dell sales drop 11 percent, Herbalife revenues up 20 percent; OfficeMax and Office Depot in the midst of office romance; Google tops $800 for first time; U.S. homebuilder sentiment dips; UniCredit warns of major branch closings. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Wall Street is building on modest gains with the S&P 500 heading for its eighth up week in a row. The Dow is back above 14,000, The S&P 500 is at a new 5-year high, and the Nasdaq closed at a fresh 12-year high. After the bell, Dell announced an 11 percent drop in quarterly revenues, but the decline was not as big as analysts anticipated. Earnings, ex-items, also topped forecasts as founder Michael Dell tries to grapple with weaker demand for PCs by trying to take the company private. Meanwhile, better sales out of Asia helped Herbalife's results. The weight-loss and vitamin company is at the center of an epic battle between two investor titans. Shares of Dell were very little changed ahead of the results, while Herbalife gained 2.6 percent before their earnings release. Wheeling and dealing helped give the market a bounce during the regular session. Sources say Office Depot and OfficeMax are in serious talks in hopes of taking on Staples. The two office supply stores could announce a merger as early as this week. OfficeMax rallied 21 percent, Office Depot was up 9.3 percent and Staples gained 13 percent on buyout speculation. Google is working on a plan to launch retail locations in the U.S., according to the New York Times. That report may have helped Google cross a milestone. Shares of the technology company broke through $800 for the first time. On to the economy now, homebuilders are less optimistic in February, than they have been, but the National Association of Homebuilders index is still near 7-year highs. Rising material costs are one reason behind the dip. Late news out of Europe: UniCredit, Italy's biggest bank, warning it will have to shut 350 branches by 2015, warning Italian government borrowing costs are too high and also warning the outcome of upcoming elections in Italy could be market flashpoints. As for the markets, a rebound in German sentiment sending stocks across Europe swiftly higher.