U.S. stocks edged higher on Monday, lifted by strength in the telecommunications sector and an eighth straight monthly rise in consumer spending, but concerns about overseas turmoil kept gains in check.

Japan's nuclear disaster and civil unrest in the Middle East and North Africa have increased market volatility in recent weeks, making investors cautious as they watch headlines closely for trading cues.

The benchmark S&P 500 has recaptured losses in the wake of the earthquake in Japan, making it more difficult for investors to find value in stocks.

If there really is an impact from the earthquake, it is hard to say it's discounted anymore, said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.

You've got earnings season coming up so unless there is a dramatic development in Japan or in the Middle East, that is going to be the next big story that has an impact on the market.

U.S. consumer spending rose slightly more than forecast in February, while inflation accelerated at its fastest pace since June 2009.

The S&P telecom index <.GSPL> rose 1.6 percent after Robert W. Baird upgraded a number of companies, including Dow components AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc , saying after AT&T's deal to buy T-Mobile USA was completed, both AT&T and Verizon should benefit from one less competitor.

AT&T rose 2.2 percent to $29.47. Verizon gained 1.2 percent to $37.73.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 21.26 points, or 0.17 percent, to 12,241.85. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 1.87 points, or 0.14 percent, to 1,315.67. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 1.31 points, or 0.05 percent, to 2,744.37.

Eastman Kodak Co , up 9.1 percent at $3.71, was the second-most active stock on the New York Stock Exchange after a U.S. trade panel in the United States last week agreed to review a case that could bring the struggling photography company hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.

The case stems from a patent claim against Apple Inc and Research in Motion Ltd . Apple shares added 0.5 percent to $353.36. But U.S.-listed shares of Research in Motion shed 0.9 percent to $56.40.

Plutonium found in soil around the crippled Fukushima nuclear complex added to mounting problems in Japan's battle to contain the world's worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl.

Rebels advanced toward the birthplace of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Monday, firing mortars and heavy machine guns in sporadic clashes with loyalist forces.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)