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

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

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

Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, was unchanged yesterday, closing at $25.27 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, soared $1.47 to $64.67 following a tentative settlement with its machinists.

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

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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.

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.

A barrel of light crude added $1.63 to settle at $65.82 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gasoline futures also rose 4.4 cents to $2.129 a gallon.

Investors spent part of the session assessing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s softer comments about the housing market. Greenspan, who has repeatedly warned about the dangers of an overheating market, told attendees at a California banking conference that most homeowners have enough equity to cushion the impact of falling prices should demand suddenly wane.

The outgoing Fed chair’s comments came after the National Association of Realtors reported existing-home sales grew 2 percent last month, dodging economists’ predictions for a decline as an indication that the housing boom was finally starting to slow.