Dow Rises on Strong Auto Sales, Oil Price Drop

Blue chips rose Wednesday as investors welcomed strong U.S. auto sales numbers and breathed a sigh of relief after a drop of more than $2 a barrel in crude oil prices.

The Dow Jones industrial average (search) rose 60.32 points, or 0.59 percent, to 10,262.97, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index (search) added 3.81 points, or 0.34 percent, to 1,125.01, according to the latest available data. The Nasdaq Composite Index (search) edged down 1.79 points, or 0.09 percent, to 1,988.98.

"People are back from the holiday with a more positive mind-set, and so we're seeing some people out there buying some stocks," said Michael Murphy, managing director Wachovia Securities.

Boeing Co. (BA) helped the Dow higher after Air New Zealand Ltd. said it will spend more than $851 million on 10 Boeing aircraft. Tech stocks were dragged lower by Xilinx Inc (XLNX), after the microchip maker disappointed some with a revenue forecast.

NYMEX crude prices (search) were down $2.31 at $40.02 a barrel after the U.S. light crude benchmark jumped to a record of $42.45, the highest level since futures were launched in New York in 1983.

"The fact that more and more OPEC members are saying they're willing to join in and up production is certainly a positive for the market," said Peter Cardillo, chief strategist at S.W. Bach & Co. "I think the feeling is ... barring any unforeseen geopolitical problems, the price of oil is going to head lower."

There have been fears that rising oil prices will slow economic growth in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to concerns about oil, many on Wall Street may be reluctant to make any big moves until Friday, when the May employment report is due.

Trading was light overall, as it has been for the past two sessions before and after the Memorial Day holiday, as many stay on the sidelines ahead of Friday's payroll report for May.

Economists expect to see that 216,000 new jobs were created last month, compared with 288,000 the month before. Analysts say a number in that region, confirming that the job market has finally caught up with the economic recovery, would point toward the Federal Reserve (search) increasing interest rates at its next meeting at the end of this month.

An increase in rates would likely crimp corporate profits and rein in consumer spending, but many on Wall Street say that effect has already been factored into stock prices by investors.

U.S. automakers, using heavy discounts to lure consumers into their showrooms, posted strong sales in May as consumers, unfazed by surging gasoline prices, seized on generous cash rebates and other deals to buy new cars and trucks.

Among the gainers in May, DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Chrysler division said its sales rose 5 percent, buoyed by demand for the Chrysler 300, the company's new flagship sedan. DaimlerChrysler's shares rose 20 cents to $44.47 on the New York Stock Exchange .

Boeing Co. (BA) shares rose 27 cents to $46.15 after Air New Zealand ordered 10 Boeing aircraft, including a pair of new 7E7 Dreamliners, as it cuts costs and boosts capacity.

Home Depot Inc. (HD) limited the Dow's gains after Banc of America Securities cut its rating on the world's largest home improvement retailer to "neutral" from "buy". Home Depot shares fell 75 cents to $35.01.

Xilinx (XLNX), which produces programmable microchips for a wide range of electronic devices, said Wednesday it still expects revenue in the June quarter to rise 5 percent to 8 percent from the most recent quarter, but investors sold the stock. Analysts' latest forecast called for Xilinx revenue to rise 7 percent in the current quarter. Xilinx shares fell $1.50, or 4.15 percent, to $34.85.

Albertsons Inc. (ABS), the No. 2 U.S. grocer, reported a sharp slide in quarterly profit largely because of costs tied to a recent labor dispute in Southern California.

Biotechnology firm Genentech Inc. (DNA) was up $1.23 at $61.65 after announcing plans to discontinue production of a drug aimed at treating growth hormone deficiency in youth, citing high manufacturing costs. The medication was jointly developed with Alkermes Inc., which was down 45 cents at $14.24 after saying the move would dent its future revenues.

Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ALKS) gained 14 cents to $12.13 after completing the buyout of competitor J&L Specialty Steel. The steelmaker hopes to break a string of 10 consecutive quarterly losses by increasing market share.

Accenture Ltd. (ACN) was up 9 cents at $25.45 a day after the technology and management consulting company won a government contract worth up to $10 billion to develop and expand biometric technology for checking identities of foreigners visiting America.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, was up 0.05, or 0.01 percent, at 572.54.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average finished 0.5 percent lower Wednesday. In Europe, France's CAC-40 and Germany's DAX index each added 0.6 percent, while Britain's FTSE 100 was unchanged.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.