NEW YORK – Stocks rose Wednesday, with the semiconductor sector boosting the Nasdaq, as investors welcomed a jump in the second-quarter gross domestic product and a decline in oil prices to under the $50-per-barrel level.
The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average (search) rose 55.89 points, or 0.55 percent, at 10,133.29 and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (search) closed up 4.45 points, or 0.40 percent, at 1,114.51. The Nasdaq Composite Index (search) closed up 24.09 points, or 1.29 percent, at 1,893.96.
The Nasdaq surged partly on enthusiasm over the potential acquisition of travel site Orbitz. Buying in the chip sector, oversold after weeks of downgrades and third-quarter warnings, also buoyed tech shares. The Philadelphia Semiconductor index (search) was up 1.9 percent.
"Basically we're seeing some quarter-end bargain hunting for semiconductors after an abysmal performance on the quarter for tech stocks in general," said David Hegarty, head trader at Commerzbank Securities "I'm a little bit cautious, but I remain positive going into the end of the year."
Investors saw the Commerce Department (search) report, which said the nation's GDP grew 3.3 percent from April to June, as fairly good news, with a few caveats. While the GDP figure was revised upward from a previous estimate of 2.8 percent, it still marked the slowest period of economic growth since the first quarter of 2003. Consumer spending, however, grew at an annual rate of just 1.6 percent in the second quarter, the lowest level in three years.
"The economy seems to be on a decent growth path, but it's being held back by high energy prices, and that's likely to keep the stock market in this trading range that we've been in over the past eight or nine months now," said Ken Tower, chief market strategist for Schwab's CyberTrader. "For an upside breakout, we'll need a steady decline in oil prices. For a downside breakout, any number of things are possible, including an actual oil shortage, which we thankfully don't have right now."
Crude oil futures ended lower for the first time in 10 days. Crude for November delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search) settled at $49.51 a barrel, down 39 cents, after sliding as low as $48.40.
In a much-awaited report, U.S. commercial crude oil inventories rose by 3.4 million barrels last week to 272.9 million, the Energy Information Administration (search) said on Wednesday. Analysts on average had expected a draw of 3.8 million barrels as companies struggled to recover production after the recent spate of hurricanes.
"Crude inventories were supposed to decline but instead they've increased, so the market looks at this as a positive," said Mike Driscoll, a Bear Stearns managing director and listed trader.
However, the drop was limited as the Minerals Management Service (search) said that recovery of oil and natural gas production shut in by Hurricane Ivan was slow.
Oil company shares fell, dragging on the Dow average and the S&P 500. Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) closed down 38 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $48.15. ConocoPhilips (COP) fell 2 percent, or $1.64, to $81.57. As a group, oil companies were the weakest-performing sector in the S&P 500 index.
Shares of online travel site Orbitz Inc. (ORBZ) surged 31 percent, or $6.40, to $27.17 after media reports said the company could be purchased by travel, hotel and real estate conglomerate Cendant Corp. for $26 to $28 per share, pricing Orbitz at more than $1 billion. Cendant fell 9 cents to $21.93.
Among tech stocks, Intel Corp. (INTC) gained 39 cents, or 2 percent, to $20.07, while Microsoft (MSFT) advanced 31 cents, or 1 percent, to $27.58. Intel and Microsoft were among the Dow's and the Nasdaq's biggest percentage gainers, and boosted the S&P 500 as well.
Shares of Boeing Co. (BA), a Dow component, dropped $1.31 to $51.01 after Bank of America downgraded the stock to "neutral" from "buy," citing potential weakness in the international aircraft market.
Telecommunications equipment maker Agere Systems Inc. (AGR) declined 8 cents to $1.06 after saying it would lay off 500 employees in an attempt to offset declining revenues.
Spice producer McCormick & Co. (MKC) slid 82 cents to $33.14 after it posted a 4.1 percent drop in third-quarter profits despite rising sales. The company nonetheless managed to surpass Wall Street forecasts by a penny per share.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies closed up 5.41, or 1 percent, at 571.07.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.3 percent. In Europe, France's CAC-40 closed up 0.4 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.5 percent and Germany's DAX index climbed 1 percent.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.