Averages Close Higher as Stock Party Rages On

The Dow is in bull territory, up more than 20% from its Sept. 21 low.
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Updated from 2:26 p.m. EST

Stocks closed higher Monday following word of a big oil merger and another weekend of military progress, and the

Dow Jones Industrial Average entered bull market territory.

The Dow rose 109.47 points, or 1.1%, at 9976.46, lifting its gain since Sept. 21 above 20%, which is the conventional definition of a bull market. The

Nasdaq gained 35.91 points, or 1.9%, to 1934.49, and the

S&P 500 was up 12.41 points, or 1.1%, to 1151.06.

In a deal that combines the U.S. oil industry's two remaining major takeover targets,

Phillips Petroleum

(P)

will acquire

Conoco

(COC)

for $15 billion in stock plus assumed debt. The deal would create the third-largest integrated energy company in the U.S. Phillips climbed $1.49, or 2.9%, to $53.31, while Conoco added $1.45, or 6%, at $25.75.

In Afghanistan, reports say suspected terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden is on the run after being virtually abandoned by his Taliban protectors. U.S. special forces units were said to be scouring a 30-square-mile area in the country's south.

Overseas exchanges closed higher, with London's FTSE 100 gaining 0.9% to 5338 and Germany's Xetra DAX gaining 2.4% to 5185. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei closed up 0.7% to 10,728, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.7% to 11,360.

The Commerce Department said housing starts fell by 1.3% in October, roughly in line with estimates, while building permits fell by 3.6%. At the same time, home improvement retailer

Lowe's

(LOW) - Get Report

said third-quarter earnings jumped 24% on a 21% sales gain. The company's shares closed up $2.42, or 6%, at $42.77.

Around 4 p.m. EST, the 10-year Treasury note was gaining 8/32 to 101 15/32, yielding 4.81%.