April 28, 2005 in Business

Stocks higher on fall in oil prices

Associated Press

Stocks tottered higher Wednesday as a slide in oil prices and upbeat earnings news eclipsed an unexpectedly steep drop in durable goods orders that raised questions about the strength of the economy.

Analysts were pleased by the advance, noting that the market had been oversold in the previous session amid anxiety over corporate results and the broader economic picture. But some observers felt the uptick lacked conviction, and predicted a continuation of the volatility that has dogged stocks so far during this earnings season.

“Earnings season is always volatile,” said Michael Murphy, head trader at Wachovia Securities in Baltimore, noting that historically, April has been the worst month of the year for stocks. “The bias seems to be to the upside today, and if we continue to get good news the market can move higher. But I still think it’s likely to remain volatile through the end of the week.”

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 47.67, or 0.47 percent, at 10,198.80, after dropping 91 points on Tuesday.

The broader gauges also rebounded. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 4.64, or 0.40 percent, to 1,156.38. The Nasdaq composite index gained 2.99, or 0.16 percent, to 1,930.43.

Treasurys were up, with the yield on the 10-year note sliding to 4.23 percent, down from 4.27 percent late Tuesday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies; gold prices fell.

Oil plummeted $2.59 to $51.61 on the New York Mercantile Exchange following the government’s weekly inventory report, which showed a 5.5 million barrel increase in crude supplies, but a 300,000 barrel draw on gasoline; analysts had been hoping for a build. The energy stocks in the S&P 500 collectively shed 2.58 percent on the news, according to the ETF that tracks the sector; Exxon Mobil Corp. dropped 1.5 percent, or 89 cents, to $58.38, making it Dow’s worst performing stock for the day.

The falling price of oil cheered investors, who had been deeply worried by the Commerce Department’s report that orders to U.S. factories for durable goods — big-ticket items that last three years or more — had plunged 2.8 percent in March. Some drop was expected after three months of declines, but the reading was far weaker than economists expected. It renewed concerns that the economy may be entering another “soft patch” as consumers and businesses, jolted by hefty fuel prices, cut back spending.

Analysts were less alarmed by the data, however, saying it reduced the likelihood that the Federal Reserve would take a more aggressive approach to raising short-term interest rates when the policy makers meet next week. Fears of a more aggressive Fed were raised Tuesday by a report that showed a surprise jump in new home sales for March.

Advancing issues slightly outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange. Preliminary volume came to 1.69 billion shares, compared with 1.57 billion shares traded Tuesday.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average slid 0.28 percent. In Europe, France’s CAC-40 sank 1.64 percent, Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 1.16 percent and Germany’s DAX index was down 1.06 percent.

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