Tech shares propel Wall Street higher; Fed eyed

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By Leah Schnurr | December 12, 2012 2:35 AM EST

Wall Street opened higher on Tuesday, lifted by gains in shares of technology companies as investors picked up some recent laggards, including Apple.

Unexpected improvement in data out of Europe set the positive tone early as investors cast around for catalysts. The U.S. stock market has entered a traditionally quiet period heading into the end of the year, with thinner trading volumes.

The Nasdaq fared better than other major indexes, lifted by a 2 percent gain in Apple Inc . The company's shares have been beaten down recently, partly due to investors' booking profit before a possible rise in capital gains taxes next year. Apple was recently up 2.5 percent at $543.18.

Elsewhere in the tech sector, Intel Corp was up 2.3 percent at $20.54, while Hewlett-Packard rose 1.1 percent to $14.31.

Investors are picking up weaker stocks in hopes of a market turn around next year, said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RDM Financial in Westport, Connecticut.

"I doubt there's going to be a lot of conviction based on volume when everything is said and done at the end of the day," said Sheldon.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 90.31 points, or 0.69 percent, to 13,260.19. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 11.14 points, or 0.79 percent, to 1,429.69. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> climbed 33.73 points, or 1.13 percent, to 3,020.69.

Though the pace of talks in Washington to avert impending U.S. tax hikes and spending cuts quickened, senior politicians on both sides cautioned that an agreement on all the outstanding issues remained uncertain.

The lack of progress in negotiations about the "fiscal cliff" has kept investors from making aggressive bets in recent weeks, though most expect a deal will eventually be reached.

In Germany, analyst and investor sentiment rose sharply in December, entering positive territory for the first time since May, a leading survey showed. The data helped drive European shares higher.

The U.S. Treasury is selling its remaining stake in insurer American International Group Inc , bringing an end to government ownership of the company about four years after a $182 billion bailout. AIG's shares were up 3.6 percent at $34.55.

The Fed will begin its policy-setting meeting on Tuesday. The central bank is expected to announce a new round of Treasury bond purchases when the meeting ends on Wednesday to replace its "Operation Twist" stimulus which expires at the end of the year.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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