Dow component Merck is fractionally higher as we head into the afternoon, despite the blue-chip drugmaker's report that it has stopped trials of its HIV vaccine. Phase II enrollment and vaccination is being discontinued on the investigational STEP trial after interim results showed the vaccine is uneffective. The study tracked uninfected volunteers who exhibited high risk factors for HIV infection for about 13 months.

Merck is following the pattern of most of its Dow compatriots by posting modest gains Boeing (BA) is the standout, hanging onto a rise of 1.5%. Merck has shuffled sideways in recent months, as its rally attempts have failed to gain traction. However, as the stock consolidates into its ascending 40-week moving average, it could get a boost higher.

From a sentiment standpoint, traders seem ambivalent toward Merck. Its Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio of 0.97 reveals a fairly even divide between puts and calls, while short interest represents an underwhelming 1% of the stock's available float. The one area where Merck finds its strongest support is the brokerage-firm contingent Zacks reports no less than 10 strong buy and 2 buy endorsements, compared to just 5 holds.