Wall Street finished mixed in fickle trading today, with investors still unsettled about the economy ahead of Friday's employment report...

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NEW YORK — Wall Street finished mixed in fickle trading today, with investors still unsettled about the economy ahead of Friday’s employment report and only somewhat relieved about sliding commodities prices.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 15.96 to 11,532.88, after rising by as many as 37 points and falling by as many as 100.

Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, slipped 20 cents to close at $26.90 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, added 20 cents to $66.07.

Broader stock indicators slipped. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2.60 to 1,274.98, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 15.51 to 2,333.73.

The Commerce Department gave the market just modest comfort when it said orders for manufactured products rose by 1.3 percent in July. The figure was higher than the 0.8 percent predicted by economists polled by Thomson Financial/IFR; the department also upwardly revised its June reading to an increase of 2.1 percent.

However, many traders shrugged off the report as old news, given that it is now September. With automakers releasing sluggish August sales and the Federal Reserve reporting weak economic activity throughout the nation, the market proceeded cautiously.

A massive pullback in commodities since earlier in the summer has helped alleviate some of Wall Street’s inflation worries. Oil briefly slid below $108 a barrel today as the dollar strengthened and Hurricane Gustav appeared to leave oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico mostly undamaged.

Light, sweet crude futures fell 36 cents to settle at $109.35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The dollar rose against the euro and pound, but weakened against the yen.

Investors are realizing that oil has fallen partly because global demand growth is waning — bad news not only for energy companies, but also for the technology and industrial sectors.

On Tuesday, stocks gave up a huge early advance only to close lower, as investors’ enthusiasm about oil’s selloff gave way to concerns about the economy in the United States and abroad.

“All the data in the last two weeks has actually been very good,” said Joseph V. Battipaglia, chief investment officer at Ryan Beck & Co., pointing to today’s factory orders data, falling oil prices, and the recent upward revision of second-quarter gross domestic product. “Despite all that, you didn’t get a commensurate market performance. And that’s troubling.”

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 3.40, or 0.46 percent, to 741.91.

Advancing issues outnumbered advancers by about 8 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.21 billion shares.

Bond prices moved higher. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 3.70 percent from 3.74 percent in late trading on Tuesday.

One bright spot in the market today was the troubled financial sector, which drew some bargain hunters thanks to positive news on a few big names: Ambac Financial Group Inc., Freddie Mac and Lehman Brothers.

Ambac rose $1.58, or 22.4 percent, to $8.65 after Wisconsin insurance regulators late Tuesday approved the bond insurer’s plans for a new insurance subsidiary.

Freddie Mac rose 20 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $5.38, after selling $4 billion in debt this week. The prices at which the company sold the debt indicated that investors’ fears about the government-sponsored mortgage finance company, while still high, have eased a bit since last month.

And Lehman Brothers rose 81 cents, or 5 percent, to $16.94 amid ongoing speculation that the investment bank is in talks to sell a 25 percent stake in itself to a Korean bank.

But in general, the outlook for stock market is uncertain, and investors have been hesitant to make any large bets.

Investors were unimpressed with the Federal Reserve’s latest snapshot of business conditions released today, in which businesses described the climate as “weak” or “soft” or “subdued.”

The big economic headline of the week for Wall Street is likely to be the Labor Department’s reading on August employment due Friday. The report is expected to show a drop in payrolls for the eighth straight month and another uptick in the unemployment rate.

The prospect of a worsening job market is worrisome to Wall Street, since many companies dependent on consumer demand have been hurting.