Stocks meandered to a mixed finish Tuesday, as higher oil prices pressured the market, but the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, a broad market measure, neared a four-year high in a sign of Wall Street’s underlying bullishness.
While there was little news to give the markets a clear direction, the stock market held on to the gains of the past three sessions, which saw the major indexes jump roughly 3 percent. Strong earnings from PepsiCo Inc. and others helped investors remain positive.
That helped Wall Street stand firm in the face of another surge in crude futures. Oil prices rose above the emotionally-key $60 per barrel mark as traders worried about another active hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico.
“On balance, things are going well, but the mood is still very, very guarded,” Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors, said of stocks. “Confidence in the market is improving, but it’s improving in very small steps because there’s still risks out there, like oil prices.”
The S&P 500 index rose 2.77 points, or 0.2 percent, finishing just shy of its four-year high of 1,225.31, reached March 7. The index briefly surpassed that level before edging back in the last hour of trading.
Other major indexes finished mixed. The Nasdaq composite index finished up 7.72 points, or 0.4 percent — its best close since Jan. 3, while the Dow Jones industrial average fell 5.83 points, or 0.1 percent, which was unsurprising given the Dow’s bent toward energy-sensitive industrial companies. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies slid 0.95 point, or 0.1 percent, edging off of its all-time high set Monday.
Analysts were pleased that the market did not sell off heavily after the previous sessions’ gains, especially with oil prices climbing sharply.
“Really, the market is behaving well, just backing and filling after three big days,” said Bryan Piskorkowski, market analyst at Wachovia Securities. “What we need now is good economic data and good earnings if we want this rally to keep going.”
Key inflation data from the Labor Department due Thursday and earnings from conglomerate General Electric Co. on Friday could provide that spark should they exceed Wall Street’s expectations.
PepsiCo rose 75 cents to $54.60 as sales of its Quaker Foods cereals and products boosted earnings by 13 percent over the previous quarter. The soft drink and snack food company beat Wall Street profit forecasts by 3 cents per share. The company also reiterated its previous forecasts for full-year earnings.
Online brokerage Ameritrade Holding Corp. said its earnings rose 20 percent in the latest quarter, meeting analysts’ profit estimates, and said it was on track for a record year. Ameritrade added 37 cents to $19.28.
Wall Street firm Bear Stearns Cos. Inc. slipped 7 cents to $106.71 after it said in a regulatory filing it may pay $200 million or more to settle charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission that the company helped hedge funds improperly trade shares of mutual funds. Bear Stearns said it added $100 million to its legal reserve to cover the costs.
New Jersey-based Hudson United Bancorp. Inc. surged 11 percent, or $4.14, to $41.64 after it agreed to be purchased by Portland, Maine-based TD Banknorth Inc. for $1.9 million in cash and stock. The deal, due to close in the first quarter of 2006, would create a strong regional bank in New England, upstate New York and New Jersey. TD Banknorth Inc. dropped 86 cents to $29.10.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.15 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.48 percent, France’s CAC-40 dropped 0.18 percent for the session, and Germany’s DAX index fell 0.22 percent.