Another drop in oil sends stocks higher
NEW YORK » Wall Street shot higher yesterday, gaining back the previous session's sharp losses and then some, after a drop in oil prices and a rise in consumer confidence gave investors some hope for a letup in Americans' financial woes. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 266 points.
Crude oil prices sank $2.54 to $122.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, extending their two-week-long retreat from record highs above $147.
The prospect of lower energy costs for U.S. consumers, along with a modest uptick in the Conference Board's July index of consumer confidence to 51.9 from 51 in June, came as welcome news. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.
"The thinking is that oil prices are heading lower, and that's obviously a positive for the market," said Richard E. Cripps, chief market strategist for Stifel Nicolaus.
In a sign that there could be additional asset markdowns for banks, Merrill Lynch & Co. announced late Monday that it was writing down another $5.7 billion and selling assets tied to risky debt at a steep discount to Lone Star Funds, a distressed debt investor.
Still, Merrill's moves at least answered lingering questions about the health of the brokerage's balance sheet. And many analysts said the asset sale could help to finally establish a market for all the hard-to-value securities held by various financial institutions.
The Dow gained 266.48, or 2.39 percent, to 11,397.56.
Broader stock indicators also climbed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 28.83, or 2.34 percent, to 1,263.20, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 55.40, or 2.45 percent, to 2,319.62.
Advancing issues outnumbered by nearly 4 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to a moderate 5.11 billion shares, up from 4.16 billion shares Monday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 18.44, or 2.65 percent, to 714.55.
Bond prices fell after advancing a day earlier. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 4.04 percent from 4.01 percent late Monday.
The dollar was mostly higher against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.
Merrill, which plans to issue new stock to raise $8.5 billion, initially saw its stock drop. But shares later rallied to finish up $1.92, or 8 percent, at $26.25.
Most other financial stocks also bounced higher. Citigroup Inc. rose $1.03, or 5.9 percent, to $18.46; Washington Mutual Inc. rose 46 cents, or 11.7 percent, to $4.40; Bank of America Corp. rose $3.97, or 14.2 percent, to $32.03; and Wachovia Corp. rose $1.98, or 14.5 percent, to $15.61.
Airline stocks also jumped due to slumping oil prices. AMR Corp., the parent of American Airlines, rose $1.47, or 18.4 percent, to $9.47; Delta Air Lines Inc. rose $1.01, or 14.6 percent, to $7.91; and United parent UAL Corp. rose $1.50, or 21.4 percent, to $8.51.