- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

NEW YORK | Stocks advanced for the second straight session Wednesday as another decline in oil prices and several upbeat profit reports eased some of Wall Street’s concerns about the economy.

Investors expect that a sustained pullback in oil prices would give a crucial boost to the economy. Crude has retreated as oil investors have worried that high prices and a sluggish economy are reducing demand. The government reported Wednesday that domestic inventories increased last week as consumers curbed their energy use.

Oil is down more than $20 a barrel since hitting a record above $147 just weeks ago. A barrel of light, sweet crude fell $3.98 to settle at $124.44 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

While oil again tugged at stocks, as it has for months, investors also examined a raft of earnings reports that indicated not all corporate profits were suffering because of the slower economy. That left some investors more upbeat about the prospects for the overall economy. AT&T; Inc., McDonald’s Corp. and Pfizer Inc., all among the 30 stocks that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average, weighed in with reports that generally pleased investors.

The Dow rose 29.88, or 0.26 percent, to 11,632.38 after rising nearly 100 points early in the session. On Tuesday, the blue chips gained 135 points.

Broader stock indicators also advanced. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 5.19, or 0.41 percent, to 1,282.19 and the technology-laden Nasdaq Composite Index rose 21.92, or 0.95 percent, to 2,325.88.

Nasdaq’s gains came ahead of a report from Amazon.com Inc., which said after the closing bell that its second-quarter profit more than doubled to top Wall Street’s expectations.

Bond prices slipped as some investors moved from the safety of government debt to stocks. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 4.12 percent from 4.10 percent from late Tuesday.

The stronger dollar also helped push oil lower. The drop in oil helped a range of sectors like airlines. Delta Air Lines Inc. rose 89 cents, or 12 percent, to $8.60, while Continental Airlines Inc. jumped $1.54, or 12 percent, to $14.80.

Energy companies lost ground as oil fell. Exxon Mobil Corp. fell $1.87, or 2.3 percent, to $80.99 and Chevron Corp. slid $2.98, or 3.5 percent, to $82.65.

Investors appeared unfazed by the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, which provides readings on the U.S. economy by region and indicated that business conditions have slowed in recent months as consumer spending has turned sluggish. The report arrives two weeks before policymakers’ next meeting but seemed to hold few surprises for investors.

Investors instead appeared more focused on oil and corporate news.

AT&T; rose $1.24, or 3.9 percent, to $33.06 after the company said quarterly profits rose amid a big spike in wireless subscribers that offset its shrinking landline business.

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