ExxonMobil, Google Boost Stocks

Stocks moved moderately higher Wednesday as upgrades of ExxonMobil Corp. (XOM) and Google Inc. (GOOG) cheered investors.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 32.34, or 0.3 percent, to 10,879.75. The Dow rose 129.91, or 1.21 percent, on Tuesday. Broader stock indicators were higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.48, or 0.43 percent, to 1,274.28, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 18.71, or 0.83 percent, to 2,262.45.

Wednesday's trading started lethargically, as investors mulled Tuesday's gains, which followed the Federal Reserve's signal that it may be nearing the end of its streak of short-term interest rate hikes.

"Yesterday seemed to take people by surprise," said Richard E. Cripps, chief market strategist for Legg Mason of Baltimore.

The day's scant economic news was mixed. While November orders to U.S. factories posted their biggest gain in three months, the increase came entirely from higher demand for commercial aircraft. Without transportation, orders were essentially unchanged, the fourth month of the past five that this broad category of the economy's health has either fallen or shown no growth.

Traders are quietly cheering for a minor economic slowdown, in the hopes that it will bring a quicker end to the Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes. The Fed has raised short-term interest rates 13 straight times in the past year-and-a-half.

Bonds rose, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.36 percent from 4.37 percent late Tuesday. The U.S. dollar was mixed against other major currencies. Gold prices were higher.

Crude oil futures fell. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $62.70, down 44 cents, in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Banc of America upgraded ExxonMobil to "buy" from "neutral." ExxonMobil rose 36 cents to $58.83. Bear Stearns raised Google to "outperform" from "peer perform" and put a price target of $550 on the stock.

Ford Motor Co. (F) rose 23 cents to $8.06 after it said it will announce details of its restructuring plan, including job cuts and plant closures, on Jan. 23. Ford's plan has been the subject of much speculation since Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford said this fall the automaker was working on its second major North American restructuring in four years. Under the first plan, launched in January 2002, Ford cut 35,000 jobs and closed five plants.

Insurer Aetna Inc. (AET) said John W. Rowe will step down as chief executive next month and named president Ronald A. Williams to replace him. Aetna rose 51 cents to $94.57. In a statement, Rowe said he had told Aetna's board some time ago that he wanted to retire when his employment contract expires this year. "As a result of a very thorough succession planning process, we decided that naming Ron Williams CEO early in the year would provide for an orderly transition," Rowe said .

Shares of Estee Lauder Cos. (EL) rose $1.62 to $34.96 as the maker of cosmetics and personal-care products was added to the S&P 500 index. After the markets closed Tuesday, Standard & Poor's replaced Mercury Interactive Corp. with Estee Lauder in the benchmark S&P 500 Index.

Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD) fell $1.69 to $46.71 after it said it plans to tear down the old Stardust casino and build a $4 billion hotel and casino complex on 63 acres of the Las Vegas Strip — one of the largest such developments planned in a town known for mega projects.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 4.95, or 0.72 percent, to 689.

Advancing issues led decliners by 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume was 775.47 million shares, up from 737.46 million at the same time Tuesday.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 1.55 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.58 percent, Germany's DAX index was up 1.15 percent, and France's CAC-40 was up 1.29 percent.