Stocks Edge Up Ahead of Election Day

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The major U.S. stock averages finished slightly higher on Monday ahead of what's expected to be a tight presidential election on Tuesday.

Trading was light with volume totaling just 2.92 billion on New York Stock Exchange and 1.49 billion on the Nasdaq.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added more than 19 points, or 0.15%, to close at 13,112. The blue-chip index, which has fallen in each of the past two weeks, began the session up a little over 7% in 2012.

Within the Dow, winners outpaced losers, 17 to 13. The biggest percentage gainers were Caterpillar (CAT) , Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) , and Walt Disney (DIS) .

The biggest Dow laggards were Bank of America (BAC) , Coca-Cola(KO) , and UnitedHealth(UNH) .

The S&P 500 rose a little more than 3 points, or 0.22%, to settle at 1417.26, while the Nasdaq jumped more than 17 points, or 0.59%, to finish at 2999.66.

The weakest sectors in the broad market were utilities, financials, consumer non-cyclicals and services. Consumer cyclicals, technology and capital goods were areas of strength.

Apple(AAPL) was a bright spot with shares rising 1.4% after the company said it sold a better-than-expected three million iPad minis over the weekend.

"The U.S. economy is still operating distinctly below its potential and unemployment is right on the historical cusp of assuring any challenging party a solid victory. A loss on Tuesday for either party -- and one will certainly draw the short straw -- is going to go down very poorly indeed among the faithful and their representatives in government," commented Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx. "That's a problem for the country, because there is a lot of heavy lifting to be done in the coming months with respect to the package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff."

"Markets remain transfixed by politics. With so many close races in the U.S., the threat of multiple hanging chad counts might delay the election result beyond Tuesday. Some states like Ohio are still changing the rules, which may lead to legal challenges," noted Paul Donovan, global economist at UBS.

The major U.S. equity averages finished last week's truncated trading week -- when exchanges were closed for several days because of Hurricane Sandy -- with steep losses on Friday as the October jobs report fell flat ahead of the election.

On Monday, the Institute for Supply Management said its services index fell to 54.2 in October from 55.1 in September, vs. the average economist estimate of 54.5 for last month.

"October's U.S. ISM non-manufacturing index provides more evidence that GDP will grow at an annualized rate of around 2% in the fourth quarter. The decline in the index ... reversed only part of the previous month's gain to leave the index with a small upward trend," noted Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.