Markets Nudge Slightly Upwards

Oil up after Russia cuts off much of Europe

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    The Dow is noncommittal today.

    Wall Street has dismissed more bad economic news and finished with a moderate advance that left stocks at their highest levels in two months.

    Fresh details from the Federal Reserve on its efforts to combat the recession have helped offset another round of disappointing economic readings on the service sector, factory orders and pending home sales.

    The Dow Jones industrials closed up 62, or 0.70 percent, at the 9,016 level. Broader indicators are ended with bigger gains.

    Meanwhile, world stock markets rose amid relatively positive corporate news, particularly from the struggling British retailing sector, but very weak U.S. factory orders data capped investors' optimism.

    The escalation of the gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia, which has now shut off deliveries to several neighboring countries and helped push the price of oil back above $50 a barrel for the first time since mid-December, also supported energy stocks around the world.

    In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 51.90 points, or 1.1 percent, at 4,639.68, while Germany's DAX rose 72.15 points, or 1.5 percent, to 5,056.14. France's CAC-40 rose 54.07 points, or 1.6 percent, to 3,413.99.

    Stock markets have kicked off the New Year in sprightly fashion, partly on relief that 2008 has been put to bed and optimism that an expected near $800 billion package of tax cuts and government spending from the incoming Obama administration may limit the length and depth of the recession in the U.S.

    Nevertheless, investors remain fully aware that the economic gloom will hang around for a long time to come.

    A raft of economic news this week, most notably Friday's U.S. jobs report for December, will likely provide markets with their first hurdles of 2009 to overcome.

    "While investors say they are braced for choppy conditions, they may yet lose their nerve at those times when the going gets rough," said Stephen Lewis, an analyst at Monument Securities.

    "The early-year rally in equities is unlikely to run far," he added.

    Oil prices were higher amid ongoing concerns about Israel's ground offensive in Gaza and mounting worries about gas supplies in Europe as the dispute between Ukraine and Russia escalated. Light, sweet crude for February delivery was up $1.44 cents at $50.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

    The dollar was 1.1 percent higher at 94.41 yen, while the euro traded 1.7 percent lower at $1.3384 as lower inflation in the 16-nation single currency zone stoked expectations that the European Central Bank may cut borrowing costs aggressively next week.