(By Balachander) U.S. stocks closed in green amid hopes of corporate merger activity and strong economic sentiment data from Germany also buoyed sentiment.
The S&P 500 Index rose 0.73 percent to end at 1,530.94. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.39 percent to finish at 14,035.67. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.68 percent to close at 3,213.59.
Germany's economic confidence index recorded a stronger-than-expected increase to 48.2 in February, data from the Center for European Economic Research/ZEW showed.
On the domestic data front, the National Association of Home Builders' market sentiment index unexpectedly fell to 46 in February from 47 in January, while economists expected a reading of 48.
Other reports of interest due to be released over the week include: the FOMC minutes, the housing starts,existing home sales, data on consumer and producer price inflation, the Conference Board's leading economic indicators and the weekly jobless claims.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: HUM, ODP, OMX, MDT, ESRX, SEE
Office Depot Inc. (NYSE: ODP) and OfficeMax Inc. (NYSE: OMX) are reportedly in advanced talks to merge. ODP and OMX shares jumped 9.37 percent and 20.93 percent, respectively.
Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) retreated 6.39 percent after the Medicare insurer said the government's Medicare Advantage rates were less than the company expected.
Medtronic Inc. (NYSE: MDT) shed 2.80 percent after the medical technology company posted its results for the third quarter and backed its 2013 guidance.
Express Scripts Holding Co. (NASDAQ: ESRX) rose 2.56 percent after the company posted better-than-expected quarterly results.
Sealed Air Corp. (NYSE: SEE) surged 9.02 percent after the provider of food safety services posted a narrower loss for the fourth quarter due to lower expenses, and adjusted earnings exceeded market expectations.
European markets closed sharply higher, with Germany's DAX up 1.62 percent to close at 7,752.45. France's CAC40 jumped 1.88 percent to finish at 3,735.82. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 gained 0.96 percent to end at 6,379.07.
Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite Index declined 1.60 percent to end at $2,382.91. Japan's Nikkei 225 dropped 0.31 percent to end at 11,372.34. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.02 percent to close at 23,143.91. India's Sensex closed at 19,635.72, up 0.69 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures added 0.83 percent to $96.66 per barrel, and natural gas futures jumped 3.74 percent to $3.27 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures shed 0.29 percent to $1,604.80 per ounce and silver futures fell 1.45 percent to $29.41 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro advanced 0.31 percent against the U.S. dollar at 1.3392. The British pound lost 0.25 percent against the greenback to 1.5427, and the dollar fell 0.43 percent against the Japanese yen to 93.5600.