Stocks moved higher in choppy trading yesterday as investors focused on strong earnings news from Intel instead of a government report that high oil prices and lower exports had...

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NEW YORK — Stocks moved higher in choppy trading yesterday as investors focused on strong earnings news from Intel instead of a government report that high oil prices and lower exports had pushed the U.S. trade deficit to a record level.

The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 61.56 at 10,617.78, making most of its gains in the final hour of trading.

Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, added 5 cents to close at $26.78 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, gained $1.12 to $51.94.

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The broader gauges were also higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 4.71 to 1,187.70. The Nasdaq composite index rose 12.91 to 2,092.53.

Anxiety about Wall Street’s slow start to the year has made some investors wary of making big bets as a number of companies prepare to release quarterly earnings, and a mixed bag of reports and outlooks did little to build confidence. It made for a confusing market yesterday, as stocks meandered in and out of positive territory, but most analysts remained upbeat about the prospects for 2005.

“The start of the year has been difficult, but at the end of the day I think the fundamentals of the economy are intact,” said Brian Pears, head equity trader at Victory Capital Management in Cleveland. “The earnings season will probably shape up pretty well, so it seems the selling is based more on what happened in November and December than on the future. So for that reason I’m pretty bullish.”

The Commerce Department said yesterday the United States’ trade deficit soared to an all-time high of $60.3 billion in November, reflecting record levels for imports of everything from oil and consumer goods to farm products. The 7.7 percent rise from an imbalance of $56 billion in October beat the previous monthly record and caught economists by surprise. They had forecast a slight narrowing of the trade gap.

The news prompted weakness in the dollar, which dropped sharply against the euro and other world currencies after the deficit data was released.

Treasury Secretary John Snow has said repeatedly that the Bush administration supports a “strong dollar” policy, but some analysts think the U.S. government is content to see the dollar fall because it makes U.S. exports cheaper.

The widening in the trade gap also led to a bounce in gold and, initially, oil prices, which were also moving on the government’s weekly report on fuel inventories.

The Department of Energy found a 3 million barrel drop in crude supplies, a deeper decline than analysts had expected, but a 1.9 million barrel build in distillate fuels, which include heating oil. Light, sweet crude for February delivery added 69 cents to settle at $46.37 per barrel.

But analysts say what might matter more for investors is the next batch of earnings reports, which could set the tone for the rest of 2005.

“I think if we can get some solid earnings numbers coming up, we can see which way the market wants to go,” said Stephen Carl, head of equity trading at The Williams Capital Group. “Conversely, if there’s a lot of disappointment in the reports, we’ll see where we don’t want it to go. We just have to play wait and see for a while.”

Chip maker Intel rose 62 cents to $23.16 after beating Wall Street earnings estimates by 2 cents a share and reporting stronger than expected revenues on strong holiday sales of computer and cellphone chips. It also issued an optimistic outlook for the first quarter.