Dec. 10, 2012 at 10:02 AM ET
Stocks opened little changed on Monday as investors awaited any sign of progress in talks to avert the United States' so-called fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts.
Investors tried to gauge the surprise resignation of Italy's prime minister, which sent a jolt through European markets. The move added to uncertainty about handling the euro zone debt crisis and drove Italy's borrowing costs higher.
McDonald's rose after reporting stronger sales.
The Dow Jones industrial average inched up seven points to 13,162 shortly after the opening bell Monday.
The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index was down a fraction of a point at 1,417. The Nasdaq composite was up a fraction at 2,978.
The departure of Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti surprised markets. Monti was credited with restoring confidence in Italy's rattled economy. Italy's benchmark stock index dropped 3 percent and the yields on Italy's government bonds rose as investors sold them.
Monti said he can't lead the country after former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party dropped its support.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with Republican House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday to negotiate a deal for avoiding the fiscal cliff that is set to go into effect in the new year.
The two sides declined to provide details about the unannounced meeting.
The "fiscal cliff" talks have kept markets on edge in the last month as investors worry the scheduled measures could send the economy into recession if politicians do not reach a deal.
"It is taking its toll on consumers, no question about that, but at the very end there will be a deal," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.
Cardillo said he expected a choppy trading day that could end near Friday's close as investors start to turn their attention to the Federal Reserve's policy-setting meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Fed is expected to announce a new round of Treasury securities purchases at the end of the meeting, according to a Reuters poll. The bond buying would replace the "Operation Twist" stimulus, which expires at the end of December.
China's export growth slowed sharply in November, highlighting the global headwinds dragging on the world's second-largest economy. But other data over the weekend showed both industrial output and retail sales rose in November at their fastest annual pace in eight months, suggesting China's economy is picking up.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.