RTTNews - After a largely choppy start to the session, stocks have turned positive in mid-morning trading on Monday. The major averages are all in positive territory amid another low volume session.

Some traders remain on the sidelines ahead of the release of some key economic figures later in the holiday-shortened week. The focus of the markets will turn to data on home prices, consumer confidence, manufacturing and employment amid the low volume summer season.

Amid a light day on the economic front, the sentencing of Bernard Madoff for his $65 billion Ponzi scheme might be of interest to some investors. Madoff could be sentenced to a maximum of 150 years in prison.

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.

The major averages have seen some further upside in the past few minutes, reaching new highs for the session. The Dow is currently up 81.39 at 8,519.78, the Nasdaq is up 4.55 at 1,842.77 and the S&P 500 is up 7.08 at 925.98.

Sector News

Energy stocks are seeing considerable strength on the day, with oil, oil service and natural gas stocks advancing by notable margins. Subsequently, the NYSE Arca Oil Index and the Philadelphia Oil Service Index are rising by 1.9 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.

The gains by energy stocks come amid a notable increase by the price of oil, with crude for August delivery currently up $1.75 at $70.91 a barrel. The price increase comes as continued violence in Nigeria has added to supply concerns.

Additionally, the NYSE Arca Natural Gas Index is also moving higher, rising by 1.1 percent on the day. The resource indices are moving further off the roughly two-month closing lows set early last week.

Meanwhile, some of the day's weakest performances are being turned in by biotechnology stocks, with the NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index falling by 1 percent on the day. The day's decline is dragging the index well off the four-month closing high set last Friday.

Biogen Idec is turning in one of the sector's worst performances, falling 6.6 percent after the company said that a tenth patient being treated with its multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri has been diagnosed with a potentially lethal brain infection.

The firm was downgraded on the news, with Deutsche Securities changing its rating from Buy to Hold. At its low for the session, Biogen Idec was at its worst intraday level in well over a month.

Stocks Driven By Analyst Comments

Shares of Zebra Technologies (ZBRA) are on the rise after being upgraded to Outperform from Neutral by Robert W. Baird. The stock is up by 4.2 percent, climbing to its best intraday level in well over eight months earlier in the session.

TRW Automotive (TRW) is also advancing after JP Morgan raised its rating on the stock to Overweight from Neutral. The broker cited the company's adjustment of terms with lenders as a reason for the upgrade. Shares of the auto system supplier are up by 14.7 percent in mid-morning dealing, continuing to move within a two-month trading range.

On the other hand, aluminum giant Alcoa (AA) is sliding following a downgrade by FBR Capital from Market Perform to Underperform. The broker downgraded the stock citing an oversaturated aluminum market. The stock is down by 3.2 percent, remaining in a recent narrow trading range.

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 are on the rise, with the German DAX Index and French CAC 40 Index up by 2 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is up by 0.7 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries are posting moderate gains. Subsequently, the benchmark ten-year note is trading at 3.477 percent, a drop of 2.9 basis points on the day.

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