(By Balachander) U.S. stocks closed on a modestly higher note amid upbeat data from China and investors focused on negotiations in Washington over a deal to avert the the looming "fiscal cliff".
The S&P 500 Index inched up 0.03 percent to end at 1,418.55. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.11 percent to finish at 13,169.88. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.30 percent to close at 2,986.96.
President Barack Obama and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner met at the White House on Sunday, but representatives for the two leaders did not disclose details of the talks. Obama has pushed for higher taxes on wealthy Americans to address the fiscal cliff of roughly $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases that could hit economic growth.
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Chinese factory output jumped 10.1 percent in November after a 9.6 percent increase in October, and retail sales gained 14.9 per cent, data showed.
In European news, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti announced plans to resign once the country's budget for next year is approved. The news pushed Italy's borrowing costs sharply higher and also threw Eurozone's political scene into uncertainty.
There were no major domestic economic reports released on Monday. However, investors keenly anticipate the Federal Reserve's two-day meeting starting Tuesday and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's conference on Wednesday for any hints regarding monetary policy.
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In corporate news, McDonald's Corp. (NYSE: MCD) rose 1.05 percent after the restaurant operator said global comparable sales grew 2.4 percent in the month of November, with all segments reporting a rise in sales.
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American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG) fell 2.26 percent after the New York-based insurer agreed to sell a 90 percent interest in aircraft lessor International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC) for roughly US$5.28 billion to a group of Chinese investors.
Groupon Inc. (NASDAQ: GRPN) tumbled 9.28 percent, reversing from a jump of 23 percent on Friday amid rumors that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) was interested in making a second offer to buy the online coupon company.
Nexen Inc. (NYSE: NXY) jumped 13.90 percent after Canada approved a proposed acquisition of the oil and gas producer by China's state-owned CNOOC for $15.1 billion.
Barnes & Noble Inc. (NYSE: BKS) gained 7.00 percent. Barron's named Barnes one of its 10 favorite stocks for 2013.
Intermec Inc. (NYSE: IN) surged 23.18 percent after the voice and data communications company agreed to be acquired by Honeywell International Inc. (NYSE: HON) for $10.00 per share in cash. Honeywell, meanwhile, announced its earnings and sales forecast for 2013.
Ingersoll-Rand Plc (NYSE: IR) lost 1.85 percent after the company announced plans to spin off its commercial and residential security businesses as well as a new share repurchase program of up to $2 billion. The Dublin-based maker of industrial and commercial products also raised quarterly dividend by 31 percent.
Diamond Foods Inc. (NASDAQ: DMND) plunged 10.06 percent after the maker of Emerald nuts posted a loss for the fourth quarter hit by costs related to an accounting probe.
European markets ended higher, with Germany's DAX up 0.17 percent to close at 7,530.92. France's CAC40 added 0.18 percent to finish at 3,612.10. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 rose 0.12 percent to end at 5,921.63.
Asian markets closed mixed, with China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index jumping 1.07 percent to finish at 2,083.77. Japan's Nikkei 225 inched up 0.07 percent to finish at 9,533.75. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index added 0.39 percent to end at 22,276.72. India's BSE Sensex ended at 19,409.69, down 0.07 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures fell 0.30 percent to $85.67 per barrel, and natural gas futures dropped 2.62 percent to $3.46 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures rose 0.47 percent to $1,713.6 per ounce and silver futures added 0.53 percent to $33.31 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro gained 0.12 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.2942. The British pound rose 0.22 percent against the greenback to 1.6074, while the dollar fell 0.17 percent against the Japanese yen to 82.3500.