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Stocks edge higher; Italian leader resigns

Steve Rothwell, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks are inching higher on Wall Street Monday after the surprise resignation of Italy's prime minister, Mario Monti, sent a jolt through European markets.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 24 points at 13,179, as of 9:50 a.m. The Standard and Poor's 500 was up one point at 1,419. The Nasdaq composite was up 10 points at 2,988.

Monti, who was credited with restoring confidence in Italy's economy, announced that he would resign after former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party dropped its support for the country's government. Italian government bond yields, a critical measure of how much the country has to pay to borrow, jumped. Concern that the European debt crisis was enveloping Italy, one of the euro region's largest economies, helped push stock markets lower around the world earlier in the year.

Investors will also watch for developments in the "fiscal cliff" talks, the automatic tax increases and federal spending cuts scheduled to start Jan. 1 unless a deal is reached to reduce the U.S. budget deficit. Economists say the measures, if implemented, could push the economy back into recession.

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met at the White House Sunday to discuss the budget, while rank-and-file Republicans stepped forward with what they called pragmatic ideas to break the stalemate. The Obama-Boehner meeting Sunday was the first between just the two leaders since Election Day.

Apple fell $1.76 to $531 after Jefferies cut its price target on the stock to $800 from $900. Growth may slow in coming years due to "developed market smartphone saturation," Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said in a note to clients. Apple has fallen 25 percent since a record close of $702.10 in September amid concern that intensifying competition will hurt the company's margins.

Other stocks making big moves;

—McDonald's rose 88 cents to $89.31. A key sales figure rose in November as U.S. customers bought more breakfast offerings and limited-time Cheddar Bacon Onion sandwiches.