Stocks up, S&P at record high amid hints on stimulus easing

Stocks closed marginally higher on Monday as Wall Street weighed when the Federal Reserve would begin curbing its monetary stimulus and tracked budget negotiations on Capitol Hill.

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Jeffrey Lacker said he expects a discussion on tapering off the Fed's $85 billion monthly bond purchases at next week's Federal Open Market Committee meeting. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said positive trends in the labor market make cuts to the Fed's $85 billion in monthly bond purchases more likely. Speaking in Chicago, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher reiterated his view that the Fed should start cutting back on its bond purchases "at the earliest opportunity."

The speeches came before Fed officials go into their "blackout" period before the two-day FOMC gathering that starts next Tuesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed just 5 points higher on Monday, with Chevron pacing gains that included 16 of its 30 components.

The S&P 500 rose 3 points to surpass its all-time finish of 1,807.23 set on Nov. 27, with technology and materials the best performing and utilities and consumer discretionary faring the worst of its 10 major industry groups.

The Nasdaq rose 6 points.

The U.S. dollar edged held steady against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, used in figuring mortgage rates and other consumer loans, fell 1 basis point to 2.85 percent.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, the price of oil lost 31 cents to $97.34 a barrel; gold futures rose $5.20, or 0.4 percent, to $1,234.20 an ounce.

Wall Street was also tracking budget discussions in Washington, with negotiators close to an agreement on cutting automatic spending reductions and halt a three-year period of unsuccessful fiscal discussions. Lawmakers face a Friday deadline to reach a deal to help curtail $100 billion to $200 billion in automatic reductions for a year or so.

"The market may focus on Washington this week, as Congress is under pressure to announce a compromise on a two-year federal budget ahead of going on their year-end holiday vacation break this weekend," Fred Dickson, chief investment strategist, at Davidson & Co. wrote in emailed commentary.

Data released Sunday showed Chinese exports jumping 12.7 percent last month from the year-earlier period, with imports into the country rising 5.3 percent. A Monday report had consumer prices in China climbing 3 percent.

On Friday, stocks rallied on a strong November jobs report that had the jobless rate falling to a five-year low and another report that had consumer confidence rising to a five-month high.

American Airlines Group's shares climbed after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant a stay that would have blocked the merger of American Airlines parent AMR and U.S. Airways, now the nation's largest airline. 

Sysco shares rallied after the food-distribution company said it would pay about $3.5 billion and take on about $4.7 billion in debt to acquire competitor US Foods to form a company with about $65 billion in annual revenue.

Shares of McDonald's slid after the fast-food chain reported softer-than-expected global sales at established restaurants for last month, hit by a steep decline in comparable-store sales in the U.S.