U.S. stocks were little changed on Wednesday as investors weighed a fresh round of proposed acquisitions against a weaker-than-expected employment report.

U.S. private employers added 179,000 jobs in April, short of economists' expectations of 198,000, a report by the payrolls processor showed.

It wasn't a huge miss and ADP isn't necessarily always accurate in predicting the U.S. government employment numbers. But it's a miss nonetheless and shows the economy continue to improve but at a very slow, modest rate, said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, New York.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 35.19 points, or 0.27 percent, to 12,772.32. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> lost 3.90 points, or 0.29 percent, to 1,352.72. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 0.58 points, or 0.02 percent, to 2,842.20.

Chip equipment maker Applied Materials Inc is snapping up rival Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates Inc for $63 per share in cash to acquire new technology to meet increased demand for smartphones and solar equipment.

Varian shares surged 51.2 percent to $61.30 and Applied Materials advanced 1 percent to $15.38.

We still have some earnings going on and we are getting more and more M&A deals and that is certainly a positive for the market on multiple fronts, said Ghriskey.

The ISM non-manufacturing index for April is due at 10 a.m. EST [1400 GMT], with economists forecasting a tick up to 57.4 from 57.3 in the previous month on growth in its business activity index.

ConAgra Foods Inc raised its offer for Ralcorp Holdings Inc to $86 a share in cash from $82 in cash and stock as it seeks to grow its private-label food business.

Ralcorp jumped nearly 8 percent to $89.80, and ConAgra added 3.5 percent to $25.64.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)