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Stocks edge higher on deals, commodities prices

NEW YORK — Stocks edged higher in midday trading Monday at the start of the last full week before the next round of corporate earnings reports begin.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 21 points, or 0.2 percent, to 12,398. The S&P 500 index rose 1 point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,333.

Materials companies gained nearly 1 percent, the most of any of the 10 company groups that make up the S&P 500 index, as commodity prices increased. Futures contracts for corn, wheat, and sugar each rose by more than 1.5 percent.

The S&P index is within 10 points, or less than 1 percent, of its closing high for the year of 1,343. With oil prices hovering near $108 a barrel, some investors are waiting for Alcoa Inc. to report its first quarter earnings next Monday, the unofficial start of the earnings season, before making any big moves. Traders are hoping to see how rising gas prices and other commodity costs are affecting corporate margins.

In company news, Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, said it would it sell its Capsugel unit to an affiliate of private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts for $2.4 billion in cash. Capsugel makes capsules for oral medicines and dietary supplements. Pfizer rose less than 1 percent.

Southwest Airlines Co. nearly 2 percent as the company continued to inspect its planes after the fuselage of one jet ripped open Friday, forcing it to make an emergency landing. Southwest grounded 79 planes after the incident and canceled about 700 flights over the weekend. The company said it expects to cancel an additional 70 flights on Monday.

Ford Motor Co. rose 3.5 percent. The company’s sales rose 16 percent in March, in part because of the success of its new Explorer crossover vehicle. A Credit Suisse analyst upgraded the automaker, citing an improved balance sheet.

Vivus rose 8 percent after the drug developer said patients taking its diet pill Qnexa over two years saw reductions in blood pressure in addition to significant weight loss.

The Nasdaq composite rose 2, or 0.1 percent, to 2,792.

No major economic reports are expected Monday. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to speak this evening at a conference in Atlanta on the health of the financial markets. Reports are due out later in the week on retail sales and wholesale inventories.