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Investors sent stocks slightly higher early today as oil prices fell below $50 per barrel. Trading was tentative, however, as Wall Street waited to see whether the presidential election would be too close to call.

Most analysts agreed that a clear winner by Wednesday morning -- or at least a credible claim of victory by either candidate -- would boost the market. But if the election appeared to be headed for a prolonged court battle like in 2000, stocks could fall sharply.

"Once we're past this, there is no excuse to hesitate and it will be positive" for stocks, said Jim Melcher, president of Balestra Capital Ltd., which oversees $170 million in New York. "Everybody is hoping this is over so we can get down to business."

In the meantime, investors welcomed another drop in oil prices that took crude futures below $50 in intraday trading for the second straight day. A barrel of light crude for December delivery was quoted at $50.04, down 9 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

At 1:30 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average rose 65.48, or 0.65 percent, to 10,119.87.

Broader stock indicators were narrowly higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 9.13, or 0.81 percent, at 1,139.64, and the Nasdaq composite index gained up 20.68, or 1.04 percent, to 2,000.55.

Trading volume was higher than expected, even as many investors waited for the results of the election. The Labor Department's monthly job creation report, due Friday, also kept some investors out of the market until the key economic indicator was released.

Nextel added $1.07, or 4.1 percent, to $27.16, for the biggest increase in the S&P 500. The company is trying to work out an airwave swap with the Federal Communications Commission to get new channels for expanding wireless Internet services. The company agreed to drop any rights to ownership of a disputed trademark name. Verizon Wireless, the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier, had said Nextel is getting airwaves too cheaply.

Steelmakers were among the S&P 500's best performers. U.S. Steel Corp., the No. 1 steelmaker in the Americas, rose 94 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $38.33, while Nucor Corp., the biggest U.S. of steel from recycled metal, added $2, or 4.7 percent, to $44.88.

Emerson Electric Co. gained $1.17 to $65.45 as the diversified manufacturer saw its net income jump 28 percent. The company beat Wall Street profit forecasts by 5 cents per share.

National Semiconductor Corp. lowered its profit forecasts for the current quarter, citing sluggish sales and high inventories, much as Intel Corp. had done in September with its mid-quarter report. National Semi tumbled 74 cents to $15.95, while Intel lost 5 cents to $22.39.

Intel Corp., the world's largest maker of computer-chip maker, lost 3 cents to $22.41. Global shipments of semiconductors will rise 1.2 percent in 2005, down from a May projection of 8.5 percent, said World Semiconductor Trade Statistics.

Consumer products maker Clorox Co. rose 45 cents to $55.60 after reporting that its first-quarter earnings fell 5 percent due to one-time charges stemming from a restructuring effort.

Insurance stocks fell as Merrill Lynch downgraded Aon Corp. and Willis Group Holdings Ltd. in response to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's investigations of the two companies. Aon lost 46 cents to $20.19, while Willis fell 59 cents to $35.37.

Media reports said Time Warner Inc.'s struggling America Online unit would lay off 700 workers as the online service worked to stem a tide of subscriber defections. Time Warner was up 3 cents at $16.41 on the news.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 4 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 162.09 million shares, compared with 141.2 million at the same point on Monday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 1.69, or 0.3 percent, at 588.69.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 1.43 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.19 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 0.27 percent, and France's CAC-40 climbed 0.47 percent.

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