NEW YORK – Stocks rose only modestly Monday even as crude oil futures fell near the $50 per barrel mark, as pre-election jitters kept Wall Street investors from making big bets.
The Dow Jones industrial average (search) rose 26.92 points, or 0.27 percent, to close at 10,054.39. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (search) inched up 0.31 of a point, or 0.03 percent, to finish at 1,130.51. The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index (search) gained 4.88 points, or 0.25 percent, to end at 1,979.87.
The blue-chip Dow and the broader S&P 500 scored their first five-day streak of gains since the last week of July.
"The market's waiting for an excuse to buy," said Michael Metz, chief investment strategist at Oppenheimer & Co.
Traders were keen to "have the election behind them" and would probably buy equities "almost regardless of the result," Metz said.
"That's except if there is no result known by Wednesday morning and then, I think we'll have a dull downward-drifting market. (...) But my feeling is that there's been enough liquidity building up in the system that we're not going to see a big sell-off regardless of what happens -- and we will see a rally, but the timing of it depends on whether there's a resolution on Wednesday or not."
On the eve of the U.S. election, Wall Street's immediate concern seemed to be on having a quick, clear decision.
"I don't think it matters which party wins. In the short term, what's going to weigh on the market is if we don't have a clear-cut winner," said Edward Keon, chief investment strategist at Prudential Equity Group.
In 2000 the tight race forced a vote recount in Florida, delaying a decision on who had won. The stock market sold off amid the uncertainty.
A sharp drop in energy prices soothed the market, although the prospect of a tight election loomed. A barrel of light crude for December delivery closed at $50.13, down $1.63, on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search). It was the lowest closing price since Oct. 4, when futures settled at $49.91 per barrel.
"The oil picture certainly helps, but you still have a lot of people sitting on their hands," said Brian Belski, market strategist at Piper Jaffray. "There's not a lot of engagement overall, and there won't be until we see if there's a decisive winner on Wednesday. If there is, no matter who it is, we'll probably go higher."
Investors welcomed a 0.6 percent rise in consumer spending, coming after a 0.1 percent drop in August. However, the Commerce Department (search) also noted that personal incomes rose by only 0.1 percent, and that the savings rate fell to 0.2 percent from 0.7 percent.
With spending outstripping income by a wide margin, there were concerns that it's only a matter of time before consumers have to cut back on their spending — which accounts for two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.
Also weighing on investors, the Institute for Supply Management's (search) manufacturing index fell in October, coming in at 56.8, far lower than the 58.5 reading expected by Wall Street. The index was at 58.5 in September.
"The market is basically ignoring these economic numbers and just waiting to see what happens Wednesday morning, if anything," said John Lynch, chief market analyst at Evergreen Investments. "The market, at this point, is simply looking for clarity. The market's fundamentals are sound, but we're preoccupied by the election."
PeopleSoft (PSFT) surged $2.16, or 10.4 percent, to $22.93 as Oracle (ORCL) increased its bid for the rival software company from $21 to $24 per share, giving the company until Nov. 19 to decide on Oracle's "best and final offer." Oracle gained 9 cents to $12.75.
Industrial giant Tyco International Ltd. (TYC) swung to a fourth-quarter profit, thanks to a double-digit rise in sales and lower one-time charges compared to last year. While Tyco surpassed Wall Street profit forecasts by 2 cents per share, the company lowered its outlook for future profits. Tyco rose 55 cents to $31.70.
Martin Marietta Materials Inc. (MLM) climbed $2.22 cents to $47.75 after the construction materials company posted a 19 percent increase in profits, beating analysts' expectations by 7 cents per share.
Health benefits manager Humana Inc. (HUM) saw its profits jump by more than a third, and improved its profit outlook as well. Humana was up $1.20 to $20.35.
Shares of drug maker Merck & Co. (MRK) plunged $3.03 to $28.28 after the Wall Street Journal said the company tried to bury concerns over its drug Vioxx for years. Vioxx, a drug known as a COX-2 inhibitor, was withdrawn from the market after it was shown to double the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients who had been taking it for at least 18 months.
Trading was active, with 1.4 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the same as the 1.4 billion daily average for last year. About 1.5 billion shares were traded on Nasdaq, below the 1.69 billion daily average last year.
Advancers outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by a ratio of about 6 to 5, and were roughly even on Nasdaq.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 3.21, or 0.6 percent, at 587.00.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.34 percent. In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 closed up 1.07 percent, France's CAC-40 rose 0.74 percent for the session, and Germany's DAX index gained 1.32 percent.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.