* United Tech, energy stocks keep Dow flat
* Apple at a record, nears $700 bln market cap
* Verizon down after Citi downgrade, AT&T follows
* Indexes up: Dow 0.04 pct, S&P 0.29 pct, Nasdaq 0.89 pct (Updates to close, changes comment)
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, Nov 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Monday on hopes that China will take further accommodative monetary policy action if needed, while merger deals kept traders focused even as volumes were below average.
Energy shares weighed, with declines in Exxon and Chevron keeping the Dow industrials flat while the S&P 500 energy sector was down 1 percent. U.S. crude and Brent fell ahead of an OPEC meeting this week.
Also weighing on the Dow, United Technologies Corp fell 1.4 percent to $108.79. Chief Executive Officer Louis Chenevert retired and is being replaced by the company's finance chief in an abrupt change.
Helping bullish sentiment was expectation central banks will continue to boost equities. Following last week's surprise rate cut, China's leadership and central bank are ready to cut interest rates again and to loosen lending restrictions.
"You tend not to cut rates once, it doesn't happen in a vacuum. This could be the first in a series. The question is, how much they are going to have to do before it works," said Brian Battle, director of trading at Performance Trust Capital Partners in Chicago.
He said the market could continue to drift upwards.
"There's going to be an impulse to buy here at the end of the quarter and the year."
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 7.84 points, or 0.04 percent, to 17,817.9, the S&P 500 gained 5.91 points, or 0.29 percent, to 2,069.41 and the Nasdaq Composite added 41.92 points, or 0.89 percent, to 4,754.89.
The Dow and S&P 500 closed at record highs.
Volume was low, with about 5.6 billion shares changing hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.4 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.
The U.S. market will close on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday and Friday will be a half-day session.
The weakest S&P 500 industry group was telecoms, down 1.5 percent. AT&T fell 1.6 percent to $34.70 while Verizon lost 1.4 percent at $49.50 after Citigroup downgraded the stock to "neutral."
Apple shares, up 1.9 percent to $118.63, led the outperforming Nasdaq. The company was within 1 percent of reaching a $700 billion market capitalization.
RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd agreed to buy Platinum Underwriters Holdings Ltd for $1.9 billion. Platinum closed up 21.1 percent at $74.19.
NYSE advancers outnumbered decliners 1,899 to 1,149, for a 1.65-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,934 issues rose and 791 fell for a 2.45-to-1 ratio.
The S&P 500 posted 74 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 112 new highs and 51 new lows. (Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Nick Zieminski)