By Kate Gibson and Laura Mandaro, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks Monday ended near their highs of the session as Wall Street monitored events in Europe, where Greece's latest rescue package was under discussion and Italy's borrowing costs kept rising.
"From confidence votes in Greece to threats of being kicked from the (European) Union .... drama remains as captivating as any of the reality shows on television," noted Paul Nolte, managing director at Dearborn Partners, in a note to clients.
With trading at low volume, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) closed up 85.15 points, or 0.7%, at 12,068.39. That left the Dow 6 points away from the session's highs, reached in the final minutes of trading.
The S&P 500 Index (SPX) gained 7.89 points, or 0.6%, to 1,261.12. All sectors rose, led by health-care and telecom stocks, as industrial and financial stocks brought up the rear.
The Nasdaq Composite Index (RIXF) gained 9.10 points, or 0.3%, to 2,695.25.
Advancers ran past decliners 16 to 13 on the New York Stock Exchange, where 783 million shares changed hands, or just 75% of the average over the last 30 days.
European finance ministers met in Brussels to work on the details of a strategy for bolstering the region's bailout fund, while Greece's political parties tried to mold together a new coalition government after Prime Minister George Papandreou on Sunday agreed to step down.
As the session wound down, headlines emerged on Greece's steps towards forming a new government and ensuring it receives its next round of aid.
Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said euro-zone finance ministers decided Greece will receive the sixth 8 billion-euro ($11 billion) tranche of its first bailout package and start working out the details of its new rescue deal after Greece's national unity government provides a written statement of its intentions to adhere to a broad bailout plan agreed Oct. 26.
For much of the session, the prospects that Italy would follow Greece to the cusp of default had rattled markets as Italian bond yields surged past 6.6%, to euro-era highs.
The crucial rate for the 10-year Italian government bond is 7%, said Phil Barach, co-manager of the DoubleLine Total Return Bond Fund (DBLTX). If it gets above 7%, "the markets will perceive that the story for Italy will become like the story for Greece," he said.
"There has to be some change there and the problem is that unlike Greece, Italy is huge," he said.
Speculation that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi would resign gave a lift to Italian stocks, though they pared gains after Berlusconi announced that he didn't plan to leave.
"With his support fading ahead of a key parliamentary vote [Tuesday], there is still a decent chance that Berlusconi will step down in the near future, but that would only be a first step in a long and painful process toward putting Italy on a firmer economic foundation," said Kevin Giddis, a fixed-income strategist at Morgan Keegan & Co.
Among movers, Amgen Inc.'s (AMGN) shares jumped 5.9% after the biotech-drug developer said it would repurchase up to $5 billion of its stock and Dish Network Corp. (DISH) shares gained 5% after the satellite-television provider said it would pay a $2 a share dividend.