Updated from 4:07 p.m. EST

A flurry of merger activity in the utility sector and sharply lower oil prices led stocks to a higher close Monday -- particularly tech shares.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 35.70 points, or 0.3%, to 11,097.55, and the S&P 500 was up 4.69 points, or 0.4%, at 1294.12. The Nasdaq Composite rose 20.14 points, or 0.9%, to 2307.18. All three ended below their session highs.

The 10-year Treasury fell 5/32 in price to yield 4.59% -- 14 basis points below the two-year note. The dollar rose against the yen and the euro.

Economic news was light, but in one piece of data the Commerce Department said new-home sales fell 5% in January to an annual rate of 1.233 million. Analysts were expecting a rate of about 1.265 million new homes.

Crude fell, giving back much of Friday's 4% gain, as Iran reportedly reached a deal in which Russia will handle uranium-enrichment duties for its nuclear power program. The agreement could ease concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions. April crude was down $1.91 to $61 a barrel.

In the day's biggest earnings report, Lowe's ( LOW - Get Report) said its fourth-quarter profit rose 37% from a year ago to $695 million, or 87 cents a share, beating estimates by 7 cents. The home-improvement chain also issued bullish guidance for the current quarter and year.

Shares of Lowe's were up $3.78, or 5.8%, to $69.30. The 52-week high is $69.70.

Britain's National Grid will acquire KeySpan for $7.3 billion in cash plus assumed debt. The $42-a-share takeout price is a 16% premium to KeySpan's close on Feb. 16, the day before the company confirmed it was talking to several suitors. KeySpan slipped 66 cents to $40.75.

Elsewhere, Intel ( INTC - Get Report) was raised to outperform from market perform at JMP Securities. The brokerage expressed confidence in various upcoming product launches, including a chip for a notebook built by Apple ( AAPL - Get Report). Intel shares rose 16 cents to $20.52.

To view Kara Wetzel's video take on today's market, click here .

Vodafone ( VOD) fell after the company said sales growth in the coming fiscal year will be slower than in the current one. The U.K.-based wireless operator also set a huge writedown related to new accounting rules.

The company's U.S.-traded ADRs lost 4.6% to $19.56.

Chinese recruitment outfit 51Job ( JOBS - Get Report) said fourth-quarter earnings rose 60.2% from a year ago to $2.4 million, or 8 cents per American depositary share, a penny better than estimates. Sales rose 20.2% to $17.9 million. Shares added 12 cents to $18.81.

Cablevision ( CVC) rose after saying it swung to a fourth-quarter profit of $54.1 million, or 19 cents a share, on a 12.5% rise in revenue. The stock added $1.26, or 5%, to $26.46.

An article in Barron's featured analyst speculation that Apple might one day consider a bid for Disney ( DIS - Get Report), where CEO Steve Jobs is now the single largest shareholder. The story noted that Apple's market cap is currently $10 billion more than the entertainment conglomerate and quoted one observer calling Disney "badly undervalued."

Apple's stock was down 0.7%, but Disney tacked on 1.4%.

By sector, the Amex Gold Bugs index was one of the hardest hit, dropping 3.6%. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Service Sector index was down 2.5%. The stronger sectors included the Amex Biotechnology index, gaining 1.7%, and the S&P Retail index, advancing 1.9%.

Foreign stocks were higher, with London's FTSE 100 up 0.3% to 5876 and Germany's Xetra DAX gaining 0.8% to 5915. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei rose 0.6% overnight to 16,193, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.6% to 15,950.

Overseas shares got a boost from a massive utility merger. Two French giants, Suez and Gaz de France, announced board approval Monday for a stock-for-stock merger worth nearly $38 billion.