US stock market ends with small gains as investors weigh earnings, mergers and news on Greece



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U.S. stocks eked out tiny gains on Monday after spending much of the day drifting sideways.

Major stock indexes barely budged early as investors took in stride the election of a Greek political party that has called for the elimination of some that nation's rescue loans. Market players also weighed the latest batch of corporate earnings

Traders welcomed news of several corporate mergers, including an $11 billion deal between reinsurers Axis Capital Holdings and PartnerRe.

"Greece was the big driver," said Chris Gaffney, a senior market strategist at EverBank Wealth Management. "The EU leaders have already come out and are willing to talk about extending the debt, so that calmed the markets a bit."

The market also brushed off concerns of a major blizzard set to descend over the Northeast U.S. The stock exchanges were expected to open for business as usual on Tuesday.

The Dow Jones industrial added 6.10 points, or 0.03 percent, to 17,678.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 5.27 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,057.09. The Nasdaq composite rose 13.88 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,771.76.

Monday's market action got off to a listless start, as the major market indexes held mostly unchanged from Friday's close.

Investors were still digesting Sunday's election victory by Greece's Syriza party, which has vowed to end painful austerity policies. That's raised concerns about whether Greece will break free from the Eurozone. The country's current bailout plan concludes at the end of February.

European markets' initial reaction to the election was positive, sending Germany's DAX up 1.4 percent, while the CAC-40 in France rose 0.7 percent. The main stock market in Greece recouped some of its early losses to end 3.2 percent lower.

"European markets reflected worse expectations for the outcome of this election and, as a result, they're seeing this as better-than-expected news," said Kate Warne, an investment strategist at Edward Jones.

Six of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 ended higher, and energy companies rose the most. The price of oil fell on continuing expectations of high supplies, but comments from an OPEC official suggested that the recent price plunge might be near an end.

Corporate deals also helped push some stocks sharply higher Monday.

Packaging company MeadWestvaco agreed to combine with Rock-Tenn Co. to create a $16 billion company, which will be named before the deal closes. MeadWestvaco jumped 14 percent, to lead all stocks in the S&P 500. The stock gained $6.31 to $51.35. Rock-Tenn vaulted $3.86, or 6.1 percent, to $66.85.

Post Holdings jumped 18 percent on news that the company has agreed to acquire privately held MOM Brands in a deal that involves $1.05 billion in cash and nearly 2.5 million shares of stock. MOM's products include cereals, hot wheat and oatmeal products. Post shares gained $7.39 to $48.83.

Investors also cheered the combination of Axis Capital and ParnterRe, lifting Axis shares $2.81, or 5.7 percent, to $52.14. PartnerRe gained $1.36, or 1.2 percent, to $115.50.

Developments in Russia also rippled through parts of the market.

Standard & Poor's rating agency downgraded Russia's credit grade to junk status on Monday. The agency sees the country's financial buffers at risk amid a slide in the country's currency and weakening revenue from oil exports. The downgrade contributed to a slide in the ruble, which weakened about 6 percent against the dollar.

Beyond geopolitical news, traders remain focused on corporate earnings, which are a key driver of stocks. They're also looking ahead to Wednesday, when the Federal Reserve is scheduled to deliver an update that could provide new insight into when the central bank plans to begin raising interest rates.

Players in the market appear to be looking past the major snowstorm sweeping into the Northeast.

"It could be disruptive, potentially, for a few people, maybe a few traders," said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at Voya Investment Management. "But as far as the market impact goes, it's minimal, unless there are severe power outages."

The NYSE Group said it plans normal trading hours for its exchanges through Tuesday.

Last week, the S&P 500 ended higher three days in a row before pulling back Friday. The Dow and S&P 500 are down slightly for the year, but remain near all-time highs set last month. The Nasdaq is up 0.8 percent this year.

In commodities trading, benchmark U.S. crude fell 44 cents to close at $45.15 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 63 cents to close at $48.16 in London. Oil has plunged since June, when it traded above $100.

In other futures trading on the NYMEX:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 3.1 cents to close at $1.317 a gallon.

— Heating oil fell 0.7 cents to close at $1.640 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 10.5 cents to close at $2.881 per 1,000 cubic feet.

U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.82 percent from 1.80 percent late Friday.

In metals trading, gold fell $13.20 to $1,279.40 an ounce. Silver slipped 31 cents to $17.98 an ounce. Copper rose four cents to $2.54 a pound.

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