U.S. stocks edged higher on Monday as an upgrade of telecom shares and a rise in February consumer spending lifted sentiment, though overseas concerns could add to volatile trading.

Japan's nuclear disaster and civil unrest in the Middle East and North Africa have pressured markets in recent weeks, and while much of those losses have been recouped, investors continue to watch headlines closely for trading cues.

To some degree investors have become used to the bad news that's out there, and things continue to look good domestically, said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland, Ohio.

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

Pending U.S. home sales unexpectedly rose last month, gaining 2.1 percent and breaking a recent trend of negative data on the sector. Stocks were little impacted by the data.

The S&P telecom sector <.GSPL> rose 1 percent after Robert W. Baird upgraded a number of telecom companies to outperform, including Dow components AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc , saying AT&T's deal to buy T-Mobile would help stabilize the hyper-competitive industry.

AT&T rose 1.1 percent to $29.18 while Verizon was up 0.9 percent to $37.62.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 38.14 points, or 0.31 percent, at 12,258.73. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was up 4.10 points, or 0.31 percent, at 1,317.90. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 4.25 points, or 0.15 percent, at 2,747.31.

Highly radioactive water leaked from a crippled nuclear complex in Japan, renewing worries over the country's reactors after an earthquake and tsunami.

Violence spread in Libya as rebels pushed west over the weekend to retake a series of towns from the forces of Muammar Gaddafi. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad deployed the army in the country's main port of Latakia for the first time after nearly two weeks of protests spread across the country.

U.S.-listed shares of Nokia Corp rose 5.1 percent to $8.78 after Goldman Sachs upgraded the stock to buy, citing the handset maker's long-term growth potential.

(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)