Stocks Open Higher After Caterpillar Beat

Stocks continued their winning streak Monday after Caterpillar beat earnings expectations and raised its outlook.

The Dow was up about 20 points at the open, led by Merck and Alcoa.

But there was some weakness in the bank and retail sectors.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen 11 of the past 12 sessions, and the Dow and the Nasdaq now have eight consecutive weekly gains. The Dow, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq all registered new multi-year closing highs on Friday.

Some encouraging news this morning: Thirty-seven percent of firms say they plan to hire new workersthis year, compared with 29 percent in January, according to a survey from the National Association for Business Economics.

Traders are hedging their bets, though: Just 28 percent said they were bullishon the market over the next six months, according to the latest survey of trader sentiment from Charles Schwab, down from 50 percent in a prior survey. And, 40 percent said they're protecting themselves against risk by trading options.

One market expert thinks the stock rally has lost momentum and investors should bail out now or face a summer of sharp declines.

"We're on borrowed time (for) people wanting it to run much further now and we're "entering the irrational exuberance level," Robin Griffiths, technical strategist from Cazenove Capital, told CNBC.

Concerns about Greece's financial situation amid rising bond yieldswere hanging over the market as well as concern about Portugal as credit-default swaps therehit a record high.

Earnings season is still in full swing this week with 164 S&P 500 companies set to report their quarterly numbers.

Dow component Caterpillar beat earnings expectations and raised its full-year outlook to $2.50 to $3.25 a share.

Whirlpool shares jumped more than 10 percent after the appliance maker topped forecasts and raised its full-year outlook.

Humana shares skidded despite a solid earnings report: The health insurer beat expectations andraised its forecastamid an increase in Medicare enrollments.

Citigroup shares fell after the government said it is selling 1.5 billion shares of the 7.7 billion it owns in the bailed-out bank. The sale should net a tidy profit for the government, which took its stake in Citi at $3.25 a share — the stock is currently trading at nearly $5.

Goldman Sachs shares dropped as traders continue to watch the fraud case against the Wall Street titan unfold to determine the severity of the charges — and implications for the firm's future. One of the latest details on the case is that the trader at the center of the case, Fabrice "Fabulous Fab" Tourre apparently talked about the subprime mortgage market in love letter to his girlfriend.

Financials were the morning's biggest decliner amid worries about financial regulation as the Senate moved closer to launching a debate on financial reform. Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, said he believes all 41 Republican senators would vote againstlaunching a floor debate on the bill, focusing instead on making changes to the bill, crafted by Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut.

Tech stocks were also weak after a downgrade on Dell.

Dell shares fell about 2 percent, making them one of the biggest drags on the Nasdaq 100, after Standpoint Research slashed its rating to "hold" from "buy," saying the firm is now fairly valued.

Other large-cap techs were also lower, including Google and Research In Motion .

More news on the M&A front today: Hertz agreed to buy rival Dollar Thrifty for about $1.2 billion, in a major consolidation move for the rental-car market.

Consolidation was also a key theme in the airline sector, with talks between UAL and Continental continuing about a possible merger. The deal may have hit a potential snag over the price of a proposed stock swap deal, according to published reports.

No major economic numbers are set for release Monday, although the rest of the week is quite busy, with a two-day Fed meeting starting on Tuesday and reports on GDP and consumer sentiment later in the week.

One notable public appearance on today's calendar is a New York speech by European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet at noon. Investors will likely listen for details on the Greek debt crisis. The Greek finance minister said earlier that Greece does expect to receive financial aid in time to avert default.

This Week:

MONDAY: Boeing, AmEx and Honeywell shareholder meetings; Earnings from Texas Instruments after the bell
TUESDAY: 3G iPads to ship; Goldman execs. testify before Senate; two-day Fed meeting begins; Earnings from DuPont, Ford, 3M, US Steel, Broadcom
WEDNESDAY: GE and BofA shareholder meetings; Weekly mortgage applications; Weekly crude inventories; Fed announcement (2:15 PM ET); Earnings from Comcast, ConocoPhillips, Corning, Sprint, Visa
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims; Earnings from ExxonMobil, P&G, Aetna, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Burger King, Kellogg, Motorola, Time Warner Cable, Viacom
FRIDAY: Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting; AT&T shareholder meetings; GDP; consumer sentiment; Earnings from Chevron

—Send comments to