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Stocks rise on Apple dividend

The Dow rose 6 points to close at 13239 on a  dividend from Apple, a deal for UPS and the promise of greater demand for U.S. Steel.

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Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny (C) talks with advisors while on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, March 19, 2012. Stocks rose Monday on the strength of the Apple dividend.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File

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U.S. stocks drifted higher Monday but lost the momentum from their biggest week of the year. A dividend from Apple, a deal for UPS and the promise of greater demand for U.S. Steel drove those stocks to gains.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up as much as 37 points but sank most of the afternoon and finished up 6.51 at 13,239.13. It was a ho-hum performance compared with the Dow's 310-point gain last week.

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 5.58 points to 1,409.75, its highest close since May 20, 2008. The Nasdaq composite index rose 23.06 points to 3,078.32.

An index of homebuilder confidence came in unchanged. Without major economic news or headlines out of Europe, the markets were steered by announcements from a handful of well-known companies.

Apple rose 2.7 percent to $601.10, its first close above $600, after announcing that it would pay a shareholder dividend and buy back $10 billion of its stock over three years.

The dividend is expected to expand the company's shareholder reach because value-oriented mutual funds that focus on dividends will buy it. Apple's stock has already skyrocketed from $405 this year, partly in anticipation of the dividend.

UPS rose 3.4 percent after announcing it would buy TNT Express, the second-largest express mail company in Europe behind DHL. The purchase further solidifies UPS' status as the world's largest delivery company.

U.S. Steel climbed 6.4 percent, the best performer in the S&P 500, after some manufacturers announced price hikes last week, fueling expectations of improving demand. Steel Dynamics and AK Steel Holding Corp. also rose.

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The markets couldn't match the electricity of last week. The Dow and the S&P 500 both rose 2.4 percent last week, their best showings of the year so far. For the first time, the Dow closed above 13,000 and the Nasdaq above 3,000 on the same day.

On Monday, while ever-present concerns about European debt, a slowdown in China and the pace of U.S. economic growth were bubbling below the surface, investors seemed to take a day off from worrying about them.

"The absence of any negative news over the weekend was pretty positive," said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Va., who described the market as complacent. "It sounds backward, but that's quite often the case."

There was little in the way of major economic indicators. The National Association of Home Builders' index of builder confidence came in unchanged from the previous month but is at its highest since June 2007, a year before the financial meltdown.

Prices for U.S. Treasury debt slid for the ninth day in a row, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note hit 2.40 percent. It has not settled above 2.40 since Aug. 5. The 10-year was at 2.36 late Monday, up from 2.30 percent Friday. The falling prices are a sign that investors are feeling more confident in the economy and moving money out of bonds and into riskier assets like stocks.

The price of oil climbed above $108, up more than a dollar for the day and almost $3 for the last two trading days. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline rose a penny over the weekend to $3.84 and is up 30 cents from a month ago, pushed higher by tension in Europe over Iran's nuclear program.

European markets were mixed. The main stock indexes fell less than 1 percent in France, Britain and Germany. Stocks rose 1.6 percent in Greece and 1.2 percent in Spain.

Though Greece's debt crisis has faded from the spotlight for the moment, Greece remains in deep recession, and uncertainty lingers. Unions throughout Europe are protesting cuts in benefits, making it difficult for governments to rein in their spending.

Leadership questions are also surfacing, with the Greek finance minister stepping down to run the majority Socialist party and France gearing up for presidential elections.

Among other U.S. stocks making moves:

Sprint Nextel plummeted 4.5 percent after an analyst downgraded the stock to underperform, predicted that future incarnations of the iPhone could have trouble with the Sprint network and expressed concern about the company's debt.

Bank of America rose above $10 in midday trading for the first time since August, though it's still well off its pre-crisis high of more than $50. The stock ended the day down 2.8 percent, at $9.53.


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