U.S. stocks rise on retail sales data, Citigroup; Dow Jones up 0.55%

U.S. stocks opened higher on Monday, supported by the release of strong U.S. retail sales data, although concerns over mounting tensions in Ukraine continued to weigh on investor confidence.

During early U.S. trade, the Dow 30 climbed 0.55%, the S&P 500 advanced 0.69%, while the Nasdaq gained 0.79%.

Official data showed that U.S. retail sales rose 1.1% in March, exceeding expectations for a 0.8% gain. Retail sales in February were revised up to a 0.7% increase from a previously estimated 0.3% rise.

Core retail sales, which exclude automobiles, rose 0.7% last month, more than the expected 0.5% increase, after a 0.3% gain in February.

But investors remained cautious after Ukraine said it plans to launch a 'full-scale anti-terrorist operation' involving the army against the rebels. The comments came after a group of separatists took control of the Ukrainian city of Slaviansk on Saturday.

In response, the United Nations Security Council kicked off an emergency meeting early on Monday to discuss the crisis.

In the financial sector, Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C) surged 4.23% after posting first-quarter earnings of $1.30 a share on $20.1 billion in revenue, compared to estimates of $1.14 a share on $19.36 billion in revenue. Separately, the bank also reportedly cut 200 to 300 jobs in its division handling stock and bond trades to reduce costs.

Other U.S. lenders added to gains, as Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) rallied 2.28%, while Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) jumped 1.13%.

Among tech stocks, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) gained 0.49% and Juniper Networks (NYSE:JNPR) slipped 0.29%, as they were still struggling with the Heartbleed security flaw.

BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) shares edged down 0.14% as some of the company's software, including its BBM messaging service for iOS and Android, was also affected.

Elsewhere, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) shares climbed 2.50%, after the Financial Times reported that the social media giant is preparing itself to provide financial services in the form of remittances and electronic money.

Across the Atlantic, European stock markets were mixed to lower. The DJ Euro Stoxx 50 edged up 0.10%, France’s CAC 40 dipped 0.01%, Germany's DAX fell 0.15%, while Britain's FTSE 100 eased 0.02%.

During the Asian trading session, Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.15%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 slid 0.36%.