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Drop in price of oil helps send stocks up

The markets also get a lift from a report that the economy grew at an annual rate of 0.9% in the first quarter.

May 30, 2008|Tim Paradis | The Associated Press

Stocks rose for a third straight session Thursday as oil prices took a tumble and the government reported that the economy grew last quarter at a faster pace than previously estimated.

A rising dollar helped push crude oil prices down by more than $4 per barrel, the biggest single-session drop since March.

Investors have been concerned recently that rising oil and gasoline prices are restraining consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

The revised reading of first-quarter gross domestic product helped ease some worries about a possible recession, which is traditionally defined by two straight quarters of decreasing GDP. The Commerce Department said the economy grew at an annual rate of 0.9% in the quarter after expanding at a 0.6% rate in the last three months of 2007.

The first-quarter figure was revised up from the department's initial estimate of 0.6% growth.

Meanwhile, credit card giant MasterCard, saying consumers were continuing to reach into their wallets for plastic, maintained its prediction of double-digit growth in net revenue this year. Although growth in its U.S. business is slowing, purchases on its cards are increasing in other parts of the world. Some economists have argued that the U.S. economy could avoid a serious downturn if consumer spending avoids a big falloff in this country and remains strong elsewhere.

Shares of MasterCard jumped $22.11, or 7.7%, to $309.

The signs Thursday of resilience in the U.S. economy appeared welcome.

"The GDP news was pretty good. From our perspective, we're not going to see a negative quarter of GDP, so earnings are going to improve," said Scott Wren, senior equity strategist for Wachovia Securities.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 52.19 points, or 0.4%, to 12,646.22. The index was up nearly 133 points at its high of the session.

Broader stock indicators also gained. The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 7.42 points, or 0.5%, to 1,398.26, and the Nasdaq composite index jumped 21.62 points, or 0.9%, to 2,508.32.

The Russell 2,000 index of smaller companies climbed 7.09 points, or 1%, to 745.55.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Stocks could be helped today by a report from Dell, which posted stronger-than-expected fiscal first-quarter earnings and revenue after the closing bell Thursday. Its stock rose more than 9% in after-hours electronic trading.

Yields on Treasury bonds surged Thursday as stocks rose, with the 10-year Treasury note climbing to 4.08% from 4.01% late Wednesday.

Oil futures initially jumped above $133 a barrel then plunged by about $7 before settling at $126.62, down $4.41 on the day, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The dollar rose against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Wren of Wachovia contends that stocks, which pulled back last week after posting sizable gains since the market's mid-March lows, are going to need a hefty dose of good news to move well above their recent levels. "I think we're going to be stuck in this range," he said.

In other market highlights:

* Financial stocks in the S&P 500 rallied 1.6%. Citigroup climbed 44 cents, or 2%, to $22.04. JPMorgan Chase, whose acquisition of Bear Stearns was approved by Bear Stearns shareholders, added 71 cents, or 1.7%, to $43.57.

* Countrywide Financial shot up 41 cents, or 8.2%, to $5.39 after setting June 25 as the date for shareholders to vote on a $3.7-billion takeover by Bank of America. Many investors have doubted that the deal would go through. Bank of America gained 73 cents, or 2.2%, to $34.60.

* Sears Holdings fell $3.22, or 3.6%, to $86.14 after it posted a $56-million fiscal first-quarter loss that was worse than Wall Street forecast.

* United Airlines parent UAL jumped 48 cents to $8.39. Its chief executive was scheduled to meet with the CEO of US Airways to discuss a combination that would create the world's largest carrier.

* Overseas, key stock indexes climbed 3% in Japan, 0.3% in Germany and 0.1% in France. Shares were little changed in Britain.

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