Technology shares pushed the Nasdaq higher on Monday on an otherwise flat day for stocks, led by BlackBerry maker Research in Motion and Cisco Systems.

Cisco Systems , a Dow component, hit a 21-month high at $26.36 after JPMorgan Chase recommended the stock to investors, and a day before the company is expected to announce new technology to speed up Internet connections.

Research in Motion gained 5.6 percent, leading the Nasdaq higher after an analyst's upgrade.

Cisco coverage was started (at JPMorgan) and RIM got an upgrade saying their earnings and outlook look pretty strong, and that helped tech shares today, said Cort Gwon, director

of research and trading strategies at FBN Securities in New York.

Sentiment also got a lift from American International Group Inc's deal to sell its Alico foreign life insurance unit to MetLife Inc for about $15.5 billion in cash and stock.

MetLife's stock rose 5.1 percent to $40.90 and AIG gained 3.6 percent to $29.10, in New York Stock Exchange trading.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 13.68 points, or 0.13 percent, to end at 10,552.52. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> shed just 0.20 of a point, or 0.02 percent, to 1,138.50. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 5.86 points, or 0.25 percent, to 2,332.21, its highest close in 18 months.

Though volume has been moderate to light of late, the market's rebound from the recent sell-off has been accompanied by improving breadth, with a rising number of stocks hitting fresh multi-week highs.

Cisco shares jumped 3.7 percent to close at $26.13 on Nasdaq after the JPMorgan recommendation and as a new technology release, announced on the company's Web site in late February, is expected tomorrow.

Dow component McDonald's Corp advanced 2.3 percent to $65.12 on the New York Stock Exchange after the world's biggest hamburger chain reported that February same-store sales increased 4.8 percent.

Sprint Nextel shares climbed 3.7 percent to $3.40 and pushed the S&P telecommunications sector's index <.GSPL> up 1.1 percent after the company's chief financial officer said he hoped to see revenue declines slowing this year and a turn to revenue growth several quarters ahead.

Shares of Clearwire Corp , which is majority owned by Sprint, jumped 13.6 percent to $7.69 on Nasdaq.

But an index of health insurers' shares <.HMO> slipped 0.46 percent, the day U.S. President Barack Obama criticized insurance premium increases and some cases of coverage denial in a speech in Philadelphia.

About 7.06 billion shares were traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, the second-weakest total volume so far in 2010, and below last year's estimated daily average of 9.65 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 3 to 2, while on the Nasdaq, about seven stocks rose for every six that fell.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Jan Paschal)