On The Fly: Top stock stories at midday

Stocks opened lower but remained within striking distance of the flat line. The averages have moved in a narrow range but are back marginally in the red near midday. Oil prices have moved lower despite the weekly DOE inventory report, which showed a larger than expected drawdown in crude supplies. ECONOMIC EVENTS: In the U.S., ADP reported private payrolls increased 190,000 in November, matching the consensus forecast. Q3 productivity growth held at the 3.0% pace reported in the preliminary reading, though expectations had been for a bump up to a 3.3% estimate of growth. Unit labor costs were knocked down to a 0.2% decline from 0.5% growth estimated in the prior report. COMPANY NEWS: UnitedHealth Group's (UNH) Optum health services company announced an agreement to acquire DaVita Medical Group, a subsidiary of DaVita (DVA) that serves approximately 1.7 million patients per year through nearly 300 medical clinics, for approximately $4.9B in cash. Following the transaction, DaVita will continue to focus on its U.S. and international kidney care businesses and pursue other investments in health care services outside of kidney care, the company stated. Shares of DaVita rose 12.5% after the announcement, while UnitedHealth's stock slipped fractionally... Walmart (WMT) plans to change the company's legal name from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to Walmart Inc. to reflect its "growing status as an omni-channel retailer," the company announced. MAJOR MOVERS: Among the notable gainers was Madrigal Pharmaceuticals (MDGL), which jumped 75% after the company announced that its Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with biopsy-proven non-alcoholic steatohepatitis demonstrated statistically significant results for the primary endpoint. Also rising after Madrigal's data were shares of Viking Therapeutics (VKTX), which has initiated Phase 2 clinical development of its VK 2809, an agonist of the thyroid beta, in hypercholesterolemia and fatty liver disease. Viking, which announced last night that it intends to offer and sell, subject to market and other conditions, shares of its common stock in an underwritten public offering, is up 3% near midday. Among the noteworthy losers was Tronox (TROX), which dropped 24% after the Federal Trade Commission issued an administrative complaint challenging the company's acquisition of Cristal on antitrust grounds. Also lower were shares of OSI Systems (OSIS), which fell 22% after Muddy Waters' Carson Block named the stock as a short target, accusing the company of corruption in securing a foreign contract and at risk if another foreign contract is renewed at less favorable terms or lost. INDEXES: Near midday, the Dow was down 24.45, or 0.1%, to 24,156.19, the Nasdaq was down 6.84, or 0.1%, to 6,755.37, and the S&P 500 was down 3.00, or 0.11%, to 2,626.57.

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