Stocks gain ground as energy stocks rally on Exxon Mobil's $31 billion deal

Easing concerns over global credit problems and more signs of corporate dealmaking are giving stocks a moderate boost. Major stock indexes rose less than 1% in late afternoon trading Monday following news that Abu Dhabi had extended $10 billion to Dubai to help the Middle Eastern city-state stay afloat. Markets had been worried in recent weeks that debt problems in the struggling former boomtown could send ripples through global credit markets.

Investors were also encouraged by Exxon Mobil's (XOM) $31 billion purchase of XTO Energy (XTO), which sent energy stocks sharply higher. The deal will help Exxon tap into the growing supply of natural gas in the U.S. and could signal more consolidation in the energy industry.
In other news, banking giant Citigroup (C) said it would pay back $20 billion in bailout money it received as part of the government's financial rescue program. The government will also sell its 34 percent stake in the company. The news came just days after Bank of America (BAC) repaid the $45 billion in bailout money it owed U.S. taxpayers.

Despite the gain in stocks, investors were being cautious, refraining from making big bets in any one area of the market as they have for the past few weeks. Bond prices were little changed and commodities were just slightly higher.

A massive stock market rally that began in March has showed signs of slowing in the past month as investors take some money off the table and try to figure out how to position themselves in the new year. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is up just 1% so far this month, after a 5.7% gain in November and a 63.5% gain since early March.

"Most people, for the most part, have wrapped up the year," said Blaze Tankersley, chief market strategist at brokerage Bay Crest Partners. "It's a do-nothing, go-nowhere market."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 25.77, or 0.3%, to 10,497.27. The S&P 500 index rose 6.95, or 0.6%, to 1,113.36, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 19.67, or 0.9%, to 2,209.98.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.56% from 3.55% late Friday.

The dollar fell against other currencies, helping to lift commodities prices. Commodities are priced in dollars and become cheaper for foreign buyers when the greenback falls.

Gold rose, while oil fell 36 cents to settle at $69.51 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Analysts said stocks are likely to drift over the next few days as investors await more details from the Federal Reserve, which wraps up its last policy meeting of the year on Wednesday.

Investors expect the central bank to keep its benchmark interest rate at a historic low level of near zero for the time being. But there is some concern that rates could rise sooner than previously thought as the economy improves.

While an end to low interest rates would be a sign the economy is on solid footing, it could also trip up stocks that have flourished this year in an environment of easy money.

"People simply want to know if we are going to keep this low interest-rate environment," said Michael Feser, president of Zecco Trading in Pasadena, Calif. "That has really been fuel for this market."

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 7.05, or 1.2%, to 607.42.

About three stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 616.6 million shares compared with 550.8 million at the same time on Friday.

Overseas, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1%, Germany's DAX index rose 0.8%, and France's CAC-40 gained 0.7%. Japan's Nikkei stock average fell less than 0.1 percent.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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