Oil prices that topped $55 per barrel pressured stocks yesterday, leaving the major indexes mixed despite upbeat retail sales and strong...
NEW YORK — Oil prices that topped $55 per barrel pressured stocks yesterday, leaving the major indexes mixed despite upbeat retail sales and strong economic news.
But considering the huge rise in crude-oil futures, the stock market responded surprisingly well, with only the Nasdaq composite index posting a loss due to volatility in the semiconductor sector. A barrel of light crude for April delivery was quoted at $53.57, up 52 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude rose as high as $55.20 in intraday trading — a new four-month high.
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“Energy prices, in my opinion, aren’t moving on fundamentals, they’re being driven by speculators,” said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at Spencer Clarke. “In this environment, it’s difficult to predict the direction of the market.”
Some investors refrained from making large bets before today’s job-creation report from the Labor Department.
The Dow Jones industrials gained 21.06 to 10,833.03.
Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, slipped 9 cents to close at $25.17 a share.
Boeing, also a Dow stock, soared $2.12, or 4 percent, to $57.42, after a bullish report from a Wall Street brokerage.
Analyst Paul Nisbet of JSA Research said the stock’s latest surge reflected a mixture of news and market phenomenon.
“When a stock breaks through a long-holding level, it’s not uncommon that you see it pop another few percent higher like this,” Nisbet said. “But there’s also been a lot of good news for Boeing lately,” he added, citing recent contracts for its 737 and 787 planes along with increased passenger traffic for airlines, which bodes well for future orders.
Banc of America Securities analyst Nick Fothergill said in a research note that Boeing’s recent results and rising delivery volumes suggest profit margins at the company’s commercial-airplanes division “could materially exceed guidance.”
The broader gauges were mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.39 to 1,210.47, while the Nasdaq was down 9.10 at 2,058.40.
Some of the pressure on the tech-heavy Nasdaq, which has lagged the other indexes since the first of the year, came from the volatile chip sector.
Meanwhile, a favorable revision on worker productivity eased inflation worries and helped bonds rally briefly, though the soaring cost of oil tempered the gains. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was steady at 4.38 percent, the dollar was mixed against other major currencies and gold fell.
The productivity of U.S. workers rose at a better-than-expected annual rate of 2.1 percent during the fourth quarter of last year, according to revised figures from the Labor Department. That’s sharply higher than an initial reading of just 0.8 percent, a sluggish number that had raised worries about inflation.
In a separate report, the department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits dipped by 1,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 310,000. It’s the fourth decline in jobless claims in the past five weeks.
“All of this data has been generally good, but to me, you still need a better catalyst to break out of this range, something to indicate a more measured increase in interest rates,” said Russ Koesterich, U.S. equity strategist at State Street in Boston. “Stocks don’t do well in a rising rate environment. So until there’s some indication that this is a benign rate environment, you’re going to be skittish.”