) -- Black Friday is over, Cyber Monday is here, and it appears a strong start to the holiday shopping season is giving global stock markets a lift.

European stock markets were higher in early trading Monday. Stock futures suggested Wall Street would open higher.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei index rose 1.6% to close at 8,287.49. South Korea's Kospi jumped 2.2% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 2%.

The National Retail Federation estimated Sunday that a record 226 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites during the four-day holiday weekend starting on Thanksgiving Day, up from 212 million shoppers in 2010.

Retailers that opened at midnight or earlier on Black Friday

, like


(WMT) - Get Report



(TGT) - Get Report


Best Buy

(BBY) - Get Report

, saw on average a 24% boost in their conversion (the number of shoppers that actually made a purchase), according to the NPD Group, a consumer research firm.

(AMZN) - Get Report

could be a big winner on Cyber Monday, the day when many shoppers go online for holiday deals.

Also lifting sentiment Monday were reports that leaders in Europe are negotiating a fiscal agreement that would make budget discipline legally binding and enforceable by European authorities,

The Wall Street Journal


Officials regard the moves as a first step toward closer fiscal and economic coordination within the 17-nation eurozone, the newspaper said.

European officials hope a new pact, which would aim to reduce the public debt that helped spark the two-year debt crisis, would persuade the European Central Bank to undertake more drastic action to reverse the recent selloff in eurozone debt markets, the newspaper said.

The gains in Europe came despite denials that the International Monetary Fund was readying a $600 billion rescue package for Italy, the eurozone's third-largest economy.

"There are no discussions with the Italian authorities on a program for IMF financing," an IMF official said.

While there is positive news from global markets Monday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued an economic outlook a bit more dour.

The OECD said policy makers around the world must "be prepared to face the worst," as the economic impact of the debt crisis in Europe threatens to spread around the developed world.

The OECD, in its bi-annual report, said continued failure by Europe's leaders to stem the debt crisis "could massively escalate economic disruption" and end in "highly devastating outcomes."

Gold prices were popping Monday as the U.S. dollar weakened against the euro on hopes that a stronger fiscal union between the 17 nations on the currency would help stem the debt crisis.

The hope is that the ECB will feel more confident about becoming the lender of last resort by buying more sovereign bonds for an extended period of time -- something the central bank was reluctant to do because it thought struggling countries would have less impetus to implement austerity measures. The ECB has been providing short-term lending to countries like Greece, Italy and Spain but has done little to lower longer-term borrowing costs as private investors shy away from Europe without the ECB's extended support.


SPDR Gold Shares

(GLD) - Get Report

now holds almost 1,300 tons as investors ramped up gold buying on last week's selloff. With U.S. stock futures pointing to a positive open, traders will also have less need to liquidate gold adding further support to prices.


Alix Steel

Randgold Resources

(GOLD) - Get Report

will be in the hot seat Monday after lowering 2011 gold production guidance for the second time this year. The West African gold miner now expects to produce between 690,000-700,000 ounces versus 760,000 ounces on the high end.

The miner had to lower guidance from 790,000 ounces previously due to unusual wet weather in the Ivory Coast; that factor was primary in the additional revision. But this time there were other problems: a temporary work stoppage in late November due to union negotiation; a longer-than-expected transition from diesel to the national power grid -- although this will be a significant cost saver for the company long-term; a failure of its barring gear in its No. 1 mill on Friday which caused its No. 2 mill to also be shut down. The No. 2 mill should be started on Tuesday but it could take 10 days for the No. 1 mill to be back on line.

In the third quarter, Randgold missed on earnings, revenue and production but investors gave the stock a free pass due to its high growth rate -- its profit ballooned 335% from a year earlier and production was up 9%. David Christensen, CEO of

ASA Gold and Precious Metals

(ASA) - Get Report

, who is a believer in Randgold's long-term growth strategy, doubted that the markets would give the stock another free pass if the company was to stumble again.

The stock was downgraded to reduce from add at Oriel Securities, but its average price target from all its ratings still represents 36% upside from where the stock closed on Friday.


Alix Steel

Data on U.S. new-home sales for October are scheduled to be released Monday.

-- Written by Joseph Woelfel

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Joseph Woelfel

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