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Stocks Eke Out a Gain Ahead of US Election

Stocks eked out a gain Monday after trading narrowly mixed for most of the session as investors were reluctant to make major moves ahead of Tuesday's' presidential election.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average squeezed out a gain of 19.28 points, or 0.15 percent, to close at 13,112.44, led by Hewlett-Packard .

Bank of America and UnitedHealth ed the blue-chip laggards.

The S&P 500 gained 3.06 points, or 0.22 percent, to finish at 1,417.26. The Nasdaq rose 17.53 points, or 0.59 percent, to end at 2,999.66.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, jumped above 18.

Among the key S&P sectors, utilities lagged, while materials and energy climbed.

Both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have been making last minute pushes through the crucial swing states in the run-up to Tuesday's vote. Investors will also be keeping a close eye on congressional races to determine how the U.S. may deal with the looming "fiscal cliff." (Read More: Campaigns Spent $30.33 Per Second for Your Vote)

"I think the markets want to see an end to this uncertainty that we're living under," Pimco head of global equities Neel Kashkari told CNBC. "But I think we need to be more precise and look at what the election means for long-term fiscal policy, what it means for monetary policy and what it means for the fiscal cliff. Because no matter who wins, the outcomes are different in those three different parts of the economy." (Read More: Here's How to Trade the Huge Week in Global Politics.)

On average, the Dow and S&P 500 have performed better under Democratic presidents with the Dow returning an average gain of 74 percent and the S&P returning a gain of 80 percent. That compares with the Republican average gain of 47 percent for the Dow and 41 percent for the S&P. For the Dow, this data dates back to 1901, while the data dates back to 1928 for the S&P.

With the election extremely close, Barry Knapp, Barclays head of U.S. equity portfolio strategy, told CNBC that trying to reallocate capital ahead of time is difficult.

"There are some interesting ideas that could benefit reasonable well under both scenarios but for the most part you're going to have to sit down Wednesday and think long and hard about where you want to be," said Knapp.

On the economic front, the Institute for Supply Management's (ISM) non-manufacturing index, which tracks monthly changes in the services sector, came in at 54.2 in October versus an estimate of 54.5. That reading was down from 55.1 in September. A reading above 50 indicates a sector expansion.

Apple gained after the tech giant aid it sold 3 million iPads since Friday when it launched the iPad mini and the fourth-generation iPad.

Netflix adopted a "poison pill" to protect against a potential takeover. The move comes on the heels of activist investor Carl Icahn accumulating shares in the streaming video company.

Among earnings, Humana reported a lower quarterly profit ut said its results were better than it had expected. The health insurer also struck a deal to acquire Florida-based Metropolitan Health Networks which serves Medicare and Medicaid members.

Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, missed forecasts for the quarter, as declining video subscribers offset growing demand for its high-speed internet services.

Transocean rallied after the oilfield services company reported better-than-expected results.

Toyota also gained after the Japanese automaker nudged up its full-year forecast.

Utility stocks including ConEd, PSE&G and Exelon continued to drop in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

In the financials sector, Morgan Stanley said its co-head of institutional securities, Paul J. Taubman, will retire at the end of the year. Swiss bank UBS also announced management changes in its investment banking unit.

On the M&A front, Stifel Nicolaus agreed to acquire KBW in a deal worth $575 million.

European markets closed lower, with investors also concerned as to whether the Greek government's new austerity bill, on which the country's next bailout is dependent, will pass through parliament.

Coming Up This Week:

TUESDAY: 3-Yr note auction, ELECTION NIGHT; Earnings from Nissan, CVS Caremark, NYSE Euronext, Office Depot, News Corp
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage apps, oil inventories, 10-yr note auction, consumer credit, Coach shareholders mtg, Oracle shareholders mtg; Earnings from Macy's, Sodastream, Qualcomm, Activision Blizzard, CBS, Monster Beverage, Whole Foods
THURSDAY: International trade, jobless claims, 30-yr bond auction, Kellogg analyst day, 3M investor mtg, OPEC press conference; Earnings from Dean Foods, Wendy's, Disney, Groupon, Nordstrom, Nvidia, Kayak, Zipcar
FRIDAY: Import/export prices, consumer sentiment, wholesale trade; Earnings from JCPenney

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