Stocks Rise on Reassuring Energy Data

Stocks rose Wednesday after data showing a higher-than-expected rise in crude supply soothed investor fears about the impact of high energy costs on corporate profits, but a 2.5 percent decline in Dell shares weighed on Nasdaq.

The Dow Jones industrial average (search) was up 27.56 points, or 0.26 percent, to close at 10,486.02. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (search) was up 2.68 points, or 0.23 percent, to end at 1,184.07. The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index (search) was down just 0.18 of a point, or 0.01 percent, to finish at 1,999.14.

It marked the third consecutive day of gains for the Dow and the S&P 500 — the first time there have been three straight sessions of gains in more than a month.

With first-quarter reports starting, investors were in the early stages of trying to assess what corporate earnings might reveal about the economy's momentum. Wall Street is likely to pay particular attention to the results of industrials and financial companies as it eyes the impact rising interest rates have had over the course of 2005's first quarter.

During this period, it's likely "the market is not going to move dramatically one way or the other," said Jeff Kleintop, chief investment strategist for PNC Financial Services Group in Philadelphia, noting that stocks tend to do better in the actual reporting season than during pre-announcements.

"It's been a show-me-the-money kind of market, very reactive, waiting to see the results," Kleintop said. "Usually it's buy on the rumor, sell on the news, but lately the market's been saying 'I'll buy on the news, thank you very much!'"

U.S. light crude for May delivery settled down 19 cents to end at $55.85 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search), after a rollercoaster day. It closed sharply below Monday's all-time high of $58.28. High oil prices tend to hurt consumer spending and corporate profits, so a fall in prices generally helps the market.

Some stocks sensitive to oil prices, such as industrials, gained. Heavy equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) jumped $1.03, or 1 percent, to $91.39, while United Technologies Corp. (UTX) gained 63 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $100.39. Both are among the 30 stocks in the blue-chip Dow average.

Despite the slip in oil prices, shares of energy companies moved higher. Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) rose 84 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $60.90, and was among the Dow's biggest percentage gainers, while rival ConocoPhillips (COP), an S&P 500 component, shot up $2.55, or 2.4 percent, to $110.87.

"Energy stocks in general led things higher despite the fact that oil was mixed," said Brian Pears, head of equity trading at Victory Capital Management in Cleveland.

"The financials seem to have come back to life after underperforming for quite some time, and I think we can credit the fact that interest rates have gone a bit lower over the last week as a catalyst — it's people feeling that financials tend to do better in low rate environments."

A 2.5 percent drop in shares of Dell Inc. (DELL), the world's largest personal computer maker, weighed on Nasdaq, ahead of the company's release of an outlook statement at an annual briefing for Wall Street analysts.

After the closing bell, Dell reaffirmed its first-quarter outlook. Its shares, which fell 98 cents to $38.15 during the regular session, rose 1 percent on the Inet electronic exchange to $38.59.

In Washington, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (search) urged Congress to limit the size of the multibillion-dollar portfolios held by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, warning that stronger regulations alone would not sufficiently reduce risks for the U.S. financial system. Restraining their growth is essential, he warned, because if one or both of the institutions fail, the federal government would have to bail out investors.

Debate over how to regulate Fannie and Freddie intensified following accounting scandals at both companies, and legislation to tighten government oversight was introduced late Tuesday. Fannie Mae (FNM), the leading U.S. buyer of home mortgages, was up $1.87 at $54.15; its rival, Freddie Mac (FRE), the second-largest mortgage buyer, added $2.04 to $63.80 following Greenspan's remarks, and as Wall Street digested the proposed legislation, which some found less onerous than feared.

Wendy's International Inc. (WEN) shed 39 cents to $38.86 after projecting a smaller first-quarter profit, saying its earnings will be slammed by higher beef prices, expensing stock options and an earlier Easter holiday this year. But the fast-food chain maintained expectations for a rebound in the second half of 2005 and reiterated its projected full-year earnings.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. (BUD), the nation's biggest brewer, slid 3.8 percent, or $1.79, to $45.65, after lowering its profit outlook for the year and saying it would step up its marketing efforts in light of weaker-than-expected U.S. beer volume in the first quarter. Legg Mason downgraded the brewer of top-selling Budweiser and Bud Light to a "sell," saying its shares were likely to trade in the low-$40s in the months ahead.

Chip stocks got a lift from Merrill Lynch raising its rating on chip makers Altera Corp(ALTR), Maxim Integrated Products Inc. (MXIM) and Broadcom Corp. (BRCM) to "buy" from "neutral." Altera rose 14 cents to $19.68, Maxim gained 46 cents to $40.86, and Broadcom advanced 31 cents to $30.07.

Telephone company MCI Inc. (MCIP) chose an acquisition offer from Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) over a higher takeover offer from Qwest Communications International Inc. (Q). Verizon shares rose nearly 1 percent to $35.68, while MCI fell 0.3 percent to $24.95.

Siebel Systems (SEBL) warned on Tuesday it expects to miss its first-quarter sales forecast. Siebel's shares fell 89 cents to $8.26 .

Monsanto Co. (MON) gained 77 cents to $61.75 after saying second-quarter profits more than doubled year-over-year, surpassing Wall Street estimates. The maker of Roundup herbicide and genetically modified seeds also raised its outlook for the year.

Research In Motion Ltd (RIMM), the maker of the popular BlackBerry wireless device, declined $1.48 to $72.92, after reporting fourth-quarter sales came in below Wall Street expectations despite subscriber growth that more than doubled from a year ago.

Trading was moderate, with 1.43 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, around the same as the 1.46 billion daily average for last year. About 1.76 billion shares were traded on Nasdaq, below the 1.81 billion daily average last year. Advancers outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by about 5 to 3 and by 8 to 7 on Nasdaq.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, was up 1.71, or 0.28 percent, at 616.21.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average added 0.45 percent. In Europe, France's CAC-40 rose 0.47 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.09 percent and Germany's DAX index was up 0.38 percent.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.