RTTNews - After a choppy start to the session, stocks moved considerably higher and continue to post moderately strong gains in mid-afternoon trading on Monday. The major averages are all in positive territory, but the moves have been limited as buying interest has waned amid another low volume session.

The light volume has come as some traders have remained on the sidelines ahead of the release of key economic figures later in the week. Traders are looking ahead to data on home prices, consumer confidence, manufacturing and employment.

Amid a light day on the economic front, the sentencing of Bernard Madoff for his $65 billion Ponzi scheme has drawn some attention, with Madoff receiving the maximum sentence of 150 years in prison.

Despite arguments from his defense and words from the former financier himself that he was truly sorry, Judge Denny Chin ensured that Madoff would spend the rest of his life in jail.

In other news, Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs is reportedly back to work, returning after a nearly six-month medical leave during which he underwent a liver transplant.

The major indices have moved sideways in recent trading, holding on to solid gains. The Dow is currently up 67.94 at 8,506.33, the Nasdaq is up 5.19 at 1,843.41 and the S&P 500 is up 6.03 at 924.93.

Dow Components

The majority of the Dow components are in positive territory, helping the blue chip index to post a moderately strong gain in mid-afternoon trading.

One of the Dow's strongest performers is tech giant Hewlett Packard (HPQ), rising by 3 percent. The day's gain has lifted the stock to its best intra-day price in nearly six months.

Other notable gains are visible in shares of Merck (MRK) which are up by 2.9 percent, extending their gains for the fourth straight session. With the move, the stock is moving to the upper end of a recent trading range.

Additionally, shares of Boeing (BA) and Dupont (DD) are also seeing a strong outing, rising by 1.9 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. While Boeing is extending its move away from a two month closing low posted last week, DuPont is climbing off of its worst closing price in three months.

Despite the day's broad based gains, Alcoa (AA) is falling by 3.4 percent on the heels of a downgrade by FBR Capital, which changed its rating on the stock from Market Perform to Underperform. The broker downgraded the stock citing an oversaturated aluminum market. The stock is giving back some of its recent gains.

Sector News

Oil stocks are continuing their strong performance, with the NYSE Arca Oil Index rising by 1.2 percent. The upward move is helping the index to move further away from the nearly two-month closing low set last Monday.

The gains by oil stocks come amid a notable increase in the price of oil, with crude for August delivery currently up $2.47 at $71.63 a barrel. The price increase comes as continued violence in Nigeria has added to supply concerns.

Banking stocks are climbing by notable margins, as reflected by the 1 percent gain seen in the Kbw Banking Index. Despite the strong gain, the index continues to be stuck within roughly a two month trading range.

Additionally, software and chemical stocks are on the rise, with a 1.1 percent rise seen in the NYSE Arca Software Index and a 1 percent advance by the S&P Chemical Index.

Meanwhile, railroad stocks are turning in some of the day's worst performances, with the Dow Jones Railroad Index sliding 2.2 percent.

In Focus: Earnings On Tap, Corporate News

On the earnings front, tax consulting service provider H & R Block (HRB) is slated to release financial results for the fourth quarter later today, with analysts expecting the company to report EPS of $2.05 for the quarter.

Apollo Group (APOL) is also due to release its third quarter results after the close of trading, with the education company expected to earn $1.12 per share.

In other news, Northrop Grumman (NOC) is seeing some strength after it received a contract along with Cobham Intercoms LLC for the supply of an upgraded vehicle intercom system from the U.S. Army. The contract is valued at $2.4 billion.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region ended Monday's session on the downside. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed down 1 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index slid 0.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets closed notably higher, with the German DAX Index and French CAC 40 Index rising 2 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index closed up 1.3 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries have seen choppy trading, currently trading in positive territory. The yield on the benchmark ten-year note is trading at 3.484 percent, a drop of 2.2 basis points on the day.

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