Stocks higher despite rising oil, gas

Stocks fluctuated before closing modestly higher Monday as oil prices neared $66 a barrel despite lower-than-expected damage estimates from Hurricane Rita.

Wall Street made a strong early advance on reports that key petroleum facilities along the Texas coastline escaped the storm with relatively less damage than during Hurricane Katrina, while investors also welcomed new data showing August sales of pre-owned homes reached their second-highest level ever.

Volatile afternoon energy trading briefly led stocks into negative territory, even after President Bush said the government would tap the nation’s reserves to make up for lost oil production from the recent hurricanes. But despite higher oil prices, Wall Street rallied in the last hour of trading.

At the close of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 24.04, or 0.23 percent, to 10,443.63, after jumping nearly 90 points in morning activity.

The broader stock indicators also moved higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.34, or 0.03 percent, to 1,215.63, and the Nasdaq composite index added 4.62, or 0.22 percent, to 2,121.46.

Bonds continued their slide, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.29 percent from 4.25 percent Friday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies in European trading, while gold prices inched up.

Wall Street’s advance extends a brief recovery from the end of last week, when Rita weakened and calmed fears of more damage similar to the havoc caused by Katrina in late August. The Dow posted three straight days of hefty losses early in the week and finished 2.09 percent lower, its biggest weekly decline since late June.

Analysts said that with no major headlines driving the market, oil prices and interest rates are once again investors’ primary concerns and could factor into whether Wall Street sees another runup before the end of the year.

Advancing issues outpaced decliners by more than 9 to 7 the New York Stock Exchange, where preliminary consolidated volume of 2.01 billion shares was unchanged from Friday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies climbed 4.74, or 0.72 percent, to 660.20.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average gained 1.77 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 added 0.73 percent, Germany’s DAX index surged 2.37 percent, and France’s CAC-40 was higher by 2 percent.

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