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Stocks rally despite soaring crude oil prices

Wall Street put aside its concerns about rising oil prices Thursday, giving stocks a late-day rally as investors focused on generally positive economic news.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Wall Street put aside its concerns about rising oil prices Thursday, giving stocks a late-day rally as investors focused on generally positive economic news.

The major stock indexes gained ground during the final two hours of the trading session, even after the price of oil momentarily crossed $66 a barrel.

“I think in the end people want to be bullish,” said Doug Sandler, chief equity strategist at Wachovia Securities in Richmond, Va. “Some of that is a trend building on a trend — the market starts to go one way and everybody seems to jump on it.”

But the ups and downs in stock prices seen Thursday — following a sell-off on Wednesday — reflect persistent worries by investors that, despite strong corporate earnings and upbeat economic reports, oil prices will eventually exact a toll.

“Oil prices will continue to be a nagging concern,” said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist at Weeden & Co. in Greenwich, Conn.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 91.48 points, or 0.9 percent, at the close, while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was up 8.68 points, or 0.7 percent. The Nasdaq composite index, full of technology stocks, rose 16.74 points, or 0.8 percent.

The market was paying careful attention to oil prices. A report released Wednesday showing a decline in U.S. gasoline inventories drove fears about supply. It heightened concerns that refinery shutdowns will make it difficult for refiners to meet peak summer demand.

Those concerns were tempered by a report from the International Energy Agency forecasting slower global oil demand growth in 2005.

Investors were also parsing new data from the Commerce Department showing retail sales rose 1.8 percent in July, less than analysts expected. The increase came despite weak demand at department stores. Almost all the increase derived from auto sales, which jumped 6.7 percent. Excluding autos, retail sales rose just 0.3 percent, half the gained forecast by economists.

Also Thursday, the Labor Department said the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits declined last week by 6,000 — the first drop in three weeks — to 308,000.

In another Commerce Department report Thursday, inventories held by businesses on shelves and backlots were unchanged in June, marking the first time inventory levels failed to increase in nine months. That effort subtracted significantly from overall economic growth in the second quarter but set the stage for much stronger growth in coming months.

Stocks trading heavily Thursday included Intel Corp., which fell 6 cents to $26.82, after it was downgraded by Goldman Sachs.

Target Corp. rose 11 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $55.65, after the discount retailer posted a steep decline in second-quarter profits, but strong sales that beat Wall Street estimate.

Others stocks trading actively included Whirlpool Corp., which on Wednesday raised its bid for competitor Maytag Corp. a third time, to $1.79 billion, or $2.7 billion including the assumption of debt. Whirlpool’s stock was down 83 cents, or 1.02 percent, at $80.70. Maytag’s shares lost 21 cents, or 1.11 percent, to trade at $18.79.

News Corp. gained 59 cents, or 3.38 percent, to $18.03 after the media conglomerate reported Wednesday that its fourth-quarter earnings rose 67 percent.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 1.4 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 was down 0.4 percent, Germany’s DAX index fell 0.7 percent and France’s CAC-40 was down 0.4 percent.