Stocks Rise, Led by Energy; Banks Skid

Stocks rose Monday, led by energy stocks as oil topped $82 a barrel. Boeing was the biggest gainer on the Dow. Financials were weak.

Plus, there was some of the usual end-of-quarter window-dressing, where investors buy into the quarter's winners and sell their losers.

The Dow gained about 45 points, or 0.4 percent, closing within a few points of 10,900, though trading volume was light. All but a few of the components were higher, led by Boeing,Merck and Alcoa. Hewlett-Packard and IBM were among the handful of decliners.

Boeing gained after the aerospace giant completed a crucial testing milestone for its long-delayed 787 Dreamliner.

The dollar slippedagainst the euro following news that Greece launched a bond auction, its first since the EU-IMF bailout deal was reached last week. This seven-year auction was met with weaker demand than the 10-year auction a few weeks ago but still helped quell investors' worries about the nation's debt problems.

The dollar's fall sent oil above $82 a barrel and gold above $1,110 an ounce.

Shares of large energy companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron rose with the price of oil. The S&P energy index gained nearly 2 percent. Materials shares were also higher, helped by the declining dollar.

General Electric shares rose slightly after GE Capital announced new deals for its business-financing arms — a sign the company is taking advantage of other banks' reluctance to lend in the wake of the financial crisis. The stock has risen 20 percent since early February, hitting a 52-week high last week. GE is the parent company of CNBC.

In the day's economic news, personal income was unchanged in February, while spending rose 0.3 percent, pushing savings to its lowest level since October 2008.

"Households are starting to ease up on their tight grip on their wallets," an encouraging sign given that spending is key to the recovery, Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors wrote in an not to clients.

"The rise in consumption was not a result of any rebound in vehicle sales. Indeed, durable goods demand was down as the weather constrained trips to the showrooms. Instead, people are buying the little things that make them happy," Naroff explained.

Wall Street's major averages barely moved over the past few sessions, and more malaise is expected as investors await the week's big event — the February jobs report on Friday. The report is, unusually, being released on a market holiday.

Investors should expect cautious-type of trading ahead of the long-weekend, warned Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist and technical analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald.

“Expect to see some apprehension" in the market ahead of the jobs report, said Pado, who thinks job gains would mostly be due to the hiring of census workers and delays in hiring due to the winter weather. "It would take well above 250,000 to convince anyone that there was any positive growth in jobs during that period of time."

He added that expectations for an increase in payrolls was largely priced into the market.

The U.S. stock market is coming off its fourth consecutive week of gains, and is on track for a second straight monthly gain and a fourth consecutive quarterly gain as the end of the first quarter approaches.

Banks were weak as the U.S. and Europe are getting close to a consensus on taxing large banks to cover the cost of future bailouts, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In a separate Journal report, the FDIC has apparently not yet signed off on WaMu's bankruptcy-reorganization plan, which could hold up a $1.4 billion tax refund to JPMorgan Chase, which bought WaMu's banking subsidiary in 2008.

Investors haven taken a little breather on Citigroup , which dropped another 3 percent today, after pushing the stock up nearly 40 percent in the past month and a half. Still, Rochdale analyst Dick Bove said the stock is a "buy." The analyst had recommended investors wait to buy the stock until the government undwound its stake in the firm but said turbulence surrounding such an unwinding is already priced in and now is the time to buy.

The Treasury is planning to sell its stake in Citi this year; Morgan Stanley won the competition to underwrite the government's sale.

And some Citi news from across the pond: The company is expanding its hedge-fund team, adding 13 new people in London and New York, the Financial Times reported.

Ford shares lost more than 2 percent after the auto maker finally completed the sale of its Volvo unit to China's Geely for nearly $2 billion. Ford will hold its annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday.

Rival auto maker Toyota struck a deal to provide its hybrid technology to Mazda. And Chrysler is said to be accelerating the U.S. launch of its redesigned Chrysler 300 sedan as part of its turnaround plan that's being overseen by new owner Fiat. Its shares ticked slightly higher.

Apple shares rose as the company reported strong demand for its iPad. The device hits store shelves on Saturday, and any customers who pre-ordered before March 27 will get them on Saturday, but the company delayed the promised delivery of any new pre-ordersby two weeks due to the strong demand. Now those units will ship on April 12.

Research In Motion shares advanced ahead of earnings from the BlackBerry maker later this week. The comapny is expected to report that it sold a whopping 11 million BlackBerries in its latest quarter, which could help offset a decline in prices and narrower margins amid increased competition in the space from the likes of Apple's iPhone and the Motorola/Google Droid phone.

And the board of mall-operator General Growth Properties meets Monday, reportedly to give final approval to a bankruptcy reorganization plan.

In deal news, Swedish telecom-equipment maker Ericsson said it has signed framework agreements worth $1.8 billion to provide network equipment for China Mobile and China Unicom.

Meanwhile, Radioshack shares pulled back nearly 3 percent after a pop last week on news that the electronics retailer is exploring a possible sale of the company.

And a Chinese court sentenced four former executives of Rio Tinto to 7 to 14 years in jail on bribery and theft charges.

This Week:

TUESDAY: Ford analyst meeting; Case-Shiller home-price index; consumer confidence
WEDNESDAY: Fed ends mortgage-buyback, TALF programs; weekly mortgage apps; ADP employment report; Chicago PMI; factory orders; weekly crude inventories; Fed's Lockhart speaks; Feinberg speaks; Earnings from Dollar General, Rite Aid, Research In Motion
THURSDAY: March auto sales; Challenger job-cuts report; weekly jobless claims; construction spending; ISM manufacturing index
FRIDAY: March jobs report; Stock market closed in observance of Good Friday; Bond market closes at noon

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