US STOCKS-Wall St rises on 'fiscal cliff' hopes, financials gain

Mon Dec 17, 2012 11:44am EST

* Optimism about fiscal cliff talks boosts equities

* Apple slides 0.9 percent

* Indexes up: S&P 0.55 pct, Dow 0.38 pct, Nasdaq 0.42 pct

By Gabriel Debenedetti

NEW YORK, Dec 17 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks climbed on Monday, bolstered by signs of the first real movement this weekend in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff," though trading volumes were light.

Nine of the S&P 500's 10 sectors were higher, led by financials, as the S&P Financial Index gained 1.6 percent. Shares of Bank of America rose 2.7 percent to $10.87 and Citigroup gained 2.6 percent to $38.57.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner edged closer to President Barack Obama's position as they try to avoid the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that would take place in the new year if no deal is reached.

Sources familiar with the talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who earns less than $1 million. Still, his new position remains far from that of President Obama.

"We have a nice little move here following the conversations between the GOP and the White House on getting a deal done," said Frank Davis, director of sales and trading at LEK Securities in New York.

"Really, the fiscal cliff is starting to get ironed out, with Boehner raising the possibility of taxes, moving in the right direction."

Trading is normally quiet during this time of year and investors have been cautious because of uncertainty about a fiscal deal. They are worried the U.S. economy could slide into recession if the tax and spending changes are implemented, though most expect a deal will eventually be reached.

The market shrugged off Monday's gloomier economic data that showed manufacturing activity in the New York region declined for a fifth straight month in December.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 50.01 points, or 0.38 percent, at 13,185.02. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 7.79 points, or 0.55 percent, at 1,421.37. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 12.46 points, or 0.42 percent, at 2,983.80.

If the S&P 500 keeps its gains, it would snap a two-day losing streak that came after a six-day run of higher finishes. Despite the uncertainty, the S&P has performed well in the last month, grinding higher in mostly light volume.

Clearwire Corp agreed to sell the rest of the company to Sprint Nextel Corp for a slightly sweeter $2.2 billion offer, days after minority shareholders criticized the previous bid as too low. Clearwire tumbled 13.3 percent to $2.92, while Sprint dropped 0.3 percent to $5.53.

Apple Inc shares slipped 0.9 percent to $505.12 after two firms cut their price targets on the stock.

The tech giant said it sold more than 2 million of its new iPhone 5 smartphones in China during the three days after its launch there on Friday, but the figures did not ease worries about stiffer competition. Apple shares have tumbled nearly 30 percent in about three months.

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