Stocks Finish Mostly Higher

A drop in oil prices brought some cheer to the market, but investors mainly marked time before Friday's employment report

Stocks ended Wednesday's session mostly in the green amid a light-volume session as a drop in crude oil prices to below $40 a barrel helped boost sentiment. Investors continued to weigh signs of continued economic growth against possibilities of higher inflation and still-elevated energy prices.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 60.32 points, or 0.59%, to 10,262.97, led by strength in Disney (DIS ) and Boeing (BA ). The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index added 3.79 points, or 0.34%, to 1,124.99.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index was the laggard among the major stock indexes, falling 1.79 points, or 0.09%, to 1,988.98. Weakness in Internet software and semiconductor issues weighed on the index.

Trading volume on the NYSE picked up from the prior session, notes economic research firm Informa Global Markets, suggesting that big accounts were more active buyers on Wednesday.

After rising to record levels amid security fears about key producer Saudi Arabia, oil futures dropped from record highs to just below $40 per barrel in New York trading late Wednesday on profit taking. OPEC president Purnomo Yusgiantoro said the cartel has the ability to raise output to full capacity from the current level of 88%. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar have joined Saudi Arabia in a call for a production increase ahead of the OPEC meeting Thursday in Beirut.

Equity-market trading is expected to be light this holiday-shortened week as investors await Friday's jobs update.

In company news, Albertson's (ABS ) reported a tumble in quarterly profit due to higher costs amid a recent labor dispute in Southern California.

Accenture (ACN ) won a U.S. government security contract worth up to $10 billion to track foreign visitors using digital photographs, fingerprints and other "biometric" information.

Boeing (BA ) said Air New Zealand will spend more than $851 million on 10 Boeing aircraft, including two new 7E7 Dreamliners.

Semiconductor issues were lower after Citigroup downgraded its investment ratings on Teradyne (TER ), Applied Materials (AMAT ), KLA-Tencor (KLAC ), and Novellus (NVLS ).

There were no major economic releases Wednesday.

In earnings news, due after Wednesday's close were releases from department store Neiman Marcus Group (NMG.A ) and homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV ).

On Thursday, an OPEC meeting and a mid-quarter earnings update from Intel (INTC ) are on the docket.

Thursday also brings an update on the ISM services gauge. Economists expect the index to hold near a record high in May. The employment update Friday will likely show the economy added more than 200,000 jobs for a third month.

Treasury Market

U.S. Treasury prices ended lower Wednesday, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note adding 3 basis points to 4.73%. Amid the slump in crude prices, traders pondered news that U.S. auto sales also jumped 6% thanks to incentives, while a CEO Roundtable hiring forecast jumped to 3-year highs, notes Action Economics.

World Markets

In Europe, stocks finished higher with help from gains in Bayer, Cable & Wireless, and oil stocks.

London's Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 index finished up 0.10 point to 4,422.80. Germany's Xetra DAX index gained 24.13 points, or 0.62%, to 3,888.31. In France, the CAC 40 index jumped 21.76 points, or 0.60%, to 3,646.23.

Asian markets finished mixed. The Nikkei 225 index lost 54.42 points, or 0.48%, to 11,242.34 amid worries over the consequences of higher fuel prices. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 96.20 points, or 0.79%, to 12,201.75.

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