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Stocks rally as oil prices plummet

Wall Street ended a volatile week with a big advance Friday as oil prices tumbled below $50 per barrel and jittery investors took solace in a pair of economic reports that eased their inflation concerns. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 122 points for the session, but the major indexes finished the week mixed.

A late selloff in crude futures helped Wall Street solidify its gains in an otherwise uncertain session. A barrel of light crude settled at $49.72, down $2.05, on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its lowest level since Feb. 18. Oil prices began the week above $55 per barrel.

The buying was further buoyed by economic data that showed prices and labor costs remained in check. The Commerce Department reported a 0.5 percent increase in income and a 0.6 percent hike in spending for March, and the Labor Department said labor costs for businesses were falling. Both are key inflation readings which bode well for interest rates and the economy.

“I think it’s well recognized that oil is one of the risk factors in the economic picture, and this drop is helping the market,” said Richard Rippe, chief economist for the Prudential Equity Group. “A decline is both beneficial to the inflation outlook and prospects for demand and growth. Oil prices are still high, no mistaking that. But it helps.”

The Dow rose 122.14, or 1.2 percent, to 10,192.51.

Broader stock indicators also moved sharply higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 13.63, or 1.2 percent, at 1,156.85, and the Nasdaq composite index gained 17.47, or 0.9 percent, to 1,921.65.

Bonds dropped after Thursday’s rally, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.20 percent from 4.15 percent late Thursday. The dollar fell against most major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Despite the gains, the market finished the week mixed, with the Dow up 0.34 percent, the S&P gaining 0.41 percent and the Nasdaq losing 0.55 percent.

Analysts attributed the market’s volatile day-to-day swings to nervousness over Tuesday’s Federal Reserve meeting. The Fed is expected to raise the nation’s benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point to 3 percent, but Wall Street was more interested in the Fed’s take on the economy.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by nearly 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where preliminary consolidated volume came to 2.39 billion shares, compared with 2.2 billion on Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 4.36, or 0.8 percent, at 579.38.

Overseas, Japan’s markets were closed Friday for a national holiday. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 was up 0.24 percent, France’s CAC-40 edged 0.01 percent higher for the session, and Germany’s DAX index climbed 0.16 percent.