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Stocks sleepwalk towards the end of the month

Despite some fairly chunky movements by a few blue-chips, their effects are cancelled out and stock market indexes are little changed

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It is looking like a sleepy end to a good month for equities

It was an up and down morning for stocks, though the benchmark indices rarely strayed far from overnight levels.

At 12.45 the Dow Jones industrial average was up 11 (0.1%) at 17,767 while the S&P 500 had also reversed earlier losses to stand up a fraction of a point at 2,089.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite was barely changed at 5,075.

The relatively lethargic behavior of the indices disguised some fairly active movements by blue-chips, such as First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), which was up 11% at US$56.57.

The solar panel maker topped expectations with earnings announced after the bell last night.

Travel web site operator Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE) was also surging, up 8.7% to US$138.10 after its trading update last night. Sector peer Priceline (NASDAQ:PCLN) advanced 2.5% to US$1,460.35 in sympathy.

As for companies reporting this morning, AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) was the pick of the bunch, up US$5.80 to US$59.90 as it upped full-year guidance after a strong third quarter.

Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) laid to rest some fears about its dividend, as it hiked its quarterly pay-out despite third quarter profits plunging. The shares were up 1.4% at US$83.36.

Sector peer Chevron (NYSE:CVX), up 1.8% at US$91.47, had a similar tale to tell as Exxon; namely, sharply reduced sales and earnings that were not as bad as feared.

Like Exxon, the devastating effects of the collapse of oil & gas prices were cushioned somewhat by strong results from the refining operations.

“US oil firms are as beset by low prices as their European counterparts, as demonstrated by reports from ExxonMobil and Chevron today,” noted Chris Beauchamp of spread betting firm IG.

“The common theme from the oil majors has been that their diversified business operations will continue to provide some refuge from the turmoil in the global oil market. So far, dividends have been one area that have not been cut, and while some executives might be tempted no one firm has yet had the courage to take an ax to their pay-outs,” he added.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals International (TSE:VRX) (NYSE:VRX) touched the lowest in more than two years after the Canadian drug maker said it will cut all ties with pharmacy business Philidor Rx Services following criticism over the relationship between the two closely associated companies.

U.S.-listed shares of the Laval, Quebec-based company fell 10.3% to US$100 in New York after dipping to US$96.46, the lowest intra-day price since August 2, 2013. The stock has lost two-thirds of its market value over the past month.

Also getting a biffing was KeyCorp (NYSE:KEY), a Cleveland, Ohio-based bank, which has agreed to buy First Niagara Financial Group (NASDAQ:FNFG) of Buffalo for US$4.1bn in the biggest deal this year between two U.S. regional banks.

Shares of KeyCorp were off 6.6% at US$12.50.

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