(For more market insights, including options activity, click on ; for the Day Ahead newsletter link.reuters.com/mex49s; for the Morning News Call newsletter, link.reuters.com/nex49s) U.S. stocks rose modestly at the open on Thursday after an industry report showed U.S. manufacturing activity accelerated in February at its fastest pace in nearly four years, countering an earlier report that showed a drop in China's factory activity. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.04 percent at 16,047.12, the S&P 500 was up 0.03 percent at 1,829.3 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 0.08 percent at 4,234.532.
** FACEBOOK INC, $66.61, -2.13 pct
** BLACKBERRY LTD, $9.365, +3.94 pct
The world’s largest social network will buy fast-growing mobile-messaging startup WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock in a landmark deal that places the company closer to the heart of mobile communications and may bring younger users into the fold. But many balked at the price tag.
Facebook is paying $42 per user with the deal, dwarfing its own $33 per user cost of acquiring Instagram. By comparison, Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten just bought messaging service Viber for $3 per user, in a $900 million deal.
However, some analysts said the deal made strategic sense as it will solidify the company’s position as a leader in mobile.
For a graphic on price paid per user, (link.reuters.com/mej96v)
The stunning bid pushed up shares of BlackBerry Ltd as it put a rough valuation metric around the Canadian smartphone maker’s own BlackBerry Messaging service.
** WAL-MART STORES INC, $73.06, -2.39 pct
The world’s largest retailer forecast a lower full-year profit than analysts expect, as fewer food stamps, higher taxes and tighter credit erode its sales. The world’s largest retailer expects net sales growth this year to be at the lower end of its forecast range of 3 to 5 percent.
** TESLA MOTORS INC, $213.2, +10.10 pct
** KANDI TECHNOLOGIES GROUP INC, $13.63, +2.10 pct
Tesla Motors, led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, posted better-than-expected fourth-quarter results on Wednesday and said deliveries of its luxury Model S electric sedan would surge more than 55 percent this year.
At least three brokerages raised their target price on the company’s stock on Thursday. Jefferies & Co raised its target price to $220 from $190, while J.P. Morgan Securities raised the target price to $137 from $115. Robert W. Baird & Co raised the target price to $245 from $215.
Shares of the Chinese electric vehicle maker, Kandi, also rose.
** SAFEWAY INC, $36.5, +5.46 pct
** BLACKHAWK NETWORK HOLDINGS INC, $23.2, -17.38 pct
The second-largest U.S. mainstream grocery store operator, said on Wednesday it is in talks about a possible sale of the company. Safeway has been trying to streamline its business by selling off non-core units.
It spun off its gift card provider, Blackhawk Network Holdings, into a separate publicly traded company, selling a 19 percent stake. It also sold off its Canadian operations to Empire Co Ltd, the operator of Canadian retailer Sobeys, for $5.8 billion in cash.
Separately, Blackhawk Network reported fourth-quarter earnings of 81 cents, missing analysts’ average estimate as higher costs and marketing expenses hurt margins.
** WALTER ENERGY INC, $11.64, +5.24 pct
The coal miner reported a smaller-than-expected adjusted quarterly loss as costs to produce steel-making coal, the company’s main product, declined.
** ONCONOVA THERAPEUTICS INC, $7.93, -42.79 pct
The company said its experimental blood disorder drug did not meet the main goal of a late-stage trial. Rigosertib, the company’s lead drug, is being studied as a potential treatment for patients with a higher risk of myelodysplastic syndromes who had not responded to prior therapy.
The company’s shares fell 45 percent in extended trading on Wednesday.
** RAPTOR PHARMACEUTICAL CORP, $16.6186, +11.38 pct
The drug maker said its experimental brain disorder drug slowed the loss of muscle control in patients with Huntington’s disease after 18 months of treatment.
** CONN’S INC, $37.7, -32.44 pct
The electronics and home appliance retailer cut its profit forecast for the current financial year, citing higher bad debts and weaker sales growth for televisions and other electronics.
** IAMGOLD CORP, $3.8, -6.40 pct
The Canadian miner swung to a quarterly loss as gold prices fell, and said its capital spending in 2014 would be 40 percent lower than last year as it had completed the expansion of a mine in West Africa.
** PORTFOLIO RECOVERY ASSOCIATES INC, $57.4, +13.71 pct
The company said it would buy Norway’s Aktiv Kapital AS for about $880 million to expand its fee-based debt collection services in Europe. The company also reported a higher-than-expected rise in fourth-quarter profit.
** AVG TECHNOLOGIES, $18.5, +6.87 pct
The anti-virus software maker on Wednesday reported fourth-quarter revenue above analysts’ average estimate, helped by a 25 percent jump in subscription revenue and strong growth in mobiles.
** HOMEAWAY INC, $45.24, +5.31 pct
The vacation rental company reported fourth-quarter revenue above analysts’ estimates due to a rise in paid listings.
** YANDEX NV, $37.58, -5.65 pct
Russia’s biggest search engine said on Thursday it expects revenues to grow by 25-30 percent this year, a slowing from the growth achieved in 2013.
** PENN VIRGINIA CORP, $12.84, -0.54 pct
The oil and gas producer on Wednesday forecast 2014 product revenues below analysts’ average estimate after reporting lower revenue in the fourth quarter due to a decline in selling prices. Product revenues, excluding the impact of any hedges, are expected to be $587 million to $630 million this year, below the average analyst estimate of $655 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
** JACK IN THE BOX INC, $55.83, +4.41 pct
The San Diego-based restaurant chain on Wednesday reported first-quarter results that beat analysts’ estimates, helped by growth in same-store sales at its Jack in the Box and Qdoba Mexican Grill outlets.
Barclays Capital raised its price target on the company’s stock to $49 from $47 on Thursday.
** GOODRICH PETROLEUM CORP, $12.44, -18.64 pct
The oil and gas producer reported a larger-than-expected loss for the fourth quarter as production was hurt by drilling delays at the Tuscaloosa Marine shale field located in Louisiana and Mississippi.
** RUBICON TECHNOLOGY INC, $11.17, +3.43 pct
The company, which supplies sapphire substrates and products to the LED, semiconductor and optical markets, forecast first-quarter revenue slightly below analysts’ estimates due to a slowing LED backlighting market.
** MILLENNIAL MEDIA INC, $6.2, -13.89 pct
The company, which helps mobile app developers and advertisers to focus on smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, forecast first-quarter revenue below analysts’ expectations and an adjusted core loss of $5 million to $6 million.
Evercore analysts cut their price target on the stock to $9 from $10, but maintained their ‘overweight’ rating.
** INFOBLOX INC, $20.05, +4.48 pct
Goldman Sachs raised its rating on the network equipment maker’s stock to “buy” from “neutral”, according to Theflyonthewall.com.
** KAYNE ANDERSON MLP INVESTMENT CO, $36.98, -4.72 pct
The investment company priced its offering of 8 million shares at $37.05 per share, a 4.5 percent discount to the stock’s Wednesday closing price. (by Shailaja Sharma in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)