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Strong bond auctions in Europe and a drop in oil prices drove stocks to a slightly higher close today. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose for the fourth straight day.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 21.57 points to end at 12,471.02. It was down most of the day, losing 64 points in the first hour of trading, following a jump in unemployment claims and a weak report on December retail sales.
Materials and industrial companies led the afternoon recovery. Caterpillar and Alcoa rose the most in the Dow. The S&P 500 finished up 3.02 points at 1,295.50. The Nasdaq composite rose 13.94 points to 2,724.70.
In the last hour and a half of trading stocks moved higher after oil prices dropped below $100 per barrel for the first time this year. Oil fell on rumors that Europe will delay an embargo on Iran. Crude plunged $2 a barrel in just eight minutes, ending at $99.
Also pushing stocks were strong bond auctions in Italy and Spain. European markets ended mostly higher after Italy and Spain held highly successful bond auctions, easing worries about Europe’s debt crisis. Italy’s benchmark stock index rose 2.1 percent.
The euro rose nearly a penny against the dollar, to $1.28, as worries eased about Europe’s financial woes. The currency, which is shared by 17 European countries, fell to a 16-month low against the dollar the day before.
It was the latest day of quiet trading in the stock market. There have been six consecutive days with moves of less than 1 percent in the S&P 500, the quietest stretch since May. Ralph Fogel, investment strategist and partner at Fogel Neale Partners in New York, said the moderate moves were an encouraging sign following the steep rises and sudden declines that were typical of last summer. “This is a much healthier market than we’ve seen.”
Unemployment benefits spiked last week to the highest level in six weeks, mostly because companies let go of thousands of holiday hires. Retail sales barely rose in December and were lower than analysts were expecting.
Despite the mixed news on the economy, investors are starting to focus on the U.S. corporate earnings season, which got under way this week with Alcoa Inc. The aluminum maker predicted stronger demand for its products this year and surprised the market with revenue that was higher than analysts were expecting.
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