Wall Street flat as takeovers offset weak overseas data

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks were little changed on Thursday as a flurry of merger deals and better-than-expected jobs data offset signs of economic weakness in Europe and Japan

Shares of H.J. Heinz Co jumped 20 percent to $72.51 after it said Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital will buy the food company for $72.50 a share, or $28 billion including debt.

Also supporting the market was data showing the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected in the latest week.

Stocks fell earlier after a report the euro zone's gross domestic product contracted by the steepest amount since the first quarter of 2009. In addition, Japan's GDP shrank 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, crushing expectations of a modest return to growth.

"The only reason a company buys another company is because they see an upside. Even though we are at multiyear highs, this kind of activity shows that there is more room for a rally, feeding optimism to the market," said Randy Frederick, director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.

But Frederick added the market would have to see small corrections before breaking above current levels, where indexes have been hovering for almost two weeks. The S&P 500 is up more than 6 percent so far this year, near its highest level since November 2007.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 13.75 points, or 0.10 percent, at 13,969.16. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was down 0.45 point, or 0.03 percent, at 1,519.88. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 1.35 points, or 0.04 percent, at 3,195.53.

Constellation Brands soared more than 35 percent to $43.20 after terms of its takeover of Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo were revised, granting it perpetual rights to distribute Corona and other Modelo brands in the United States. AB InBev ADRs gained 5.5 percent to $93.08.

American Airlines and US Airways Group said they plan to merge in a deal that will form the world's biggest air carrier, with an equity valuation of about $11 billion. US Airways shares fell 6.8 percent to $13.67.

Weakness in Europe contributed to a 5 percent drop in revenue from the region for Cisco Systems , which nonetheless beat estimates as it reported its results late Wednesday. The company's shares slid 1.4 percent to $20.85.

General Motors Co reported a weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, also citing bigger losses in Europe alongside lower prices in its core North American market. The stock was off 1.7 percent at $28.19.

(Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Kenneth Barry)

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