NEW YORK (AP) - Stocks meandered to a mixed finish Tuesday as higher oil prices pressured the market, but the Standard & Poor's 500 index neared a four-year high in a sign of Wall Street's underlying bullishness.
While there was little news to give the markets a clear direction, the stock market held on to the gains of the past three sessions, which saw the major indexes jump roughly 3 percent.
Strong earnings from PepsiCo Inc. and others helped investors remain positive.
That helped Wall Street stand firm in the face of another surge in crude futures.
Oil prices rose above $60 per barrel as traders worried about another active hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico.
A barrel of light crude was quoted at $60.62, up $1.70, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
"On balance, things are going well, but the mood is still very, very guarded,'' Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors, said of stocks.
"Confidence in the market is improving, but it's improving in very small steps because there's still risks out there, like oil prices.''
The S&P rose 2.77, or 0.23 percent, to 1,222.21, just 3 points shy of its four-year high of 1,225.31, reached March 7.
The index briefly surpassed that level before edging back in the last hour of trading.
The other major indexes were mixed.
The Nasdaq composite index was up 7.72, or 0.36 percent, at 2,143.15, its best close since Jan. 3, while the Dow Jones industrial average fell 5.83, or 0.06 percent, to 10,513.89, unsurprising given the Dow's bent toward energy-sensitive industrial companies.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 0.95, or 0.14 percent, at 670.79, edging off of its all-time high set Monday.
Bonds edged lower as stocks held on to their gains, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.14 percent from 4.10 percent late Monday.
Much of the bond market's weakness was attributed to the dollar, which fell against most major currencies. Gold prices rose.
Analysts were pleased that the market did not sell off heavily after the previous sessions' gains, especially with oil prices climbing sharply.
"Really, the market is behaving well, just backing and filling after three big days,'' said Bryan Piskorkowski, market analyst at Wachovia Securities.
"What we need now is good economic data and good earnings if we want this rally to keep going.''
Key inflation data from the Labor Department due Thursday and earnings from conglomerate General Electric Co. on Friday could provide that spark should they exceed Wall Street's expectations.
PepsiCo rose 75 cents to $54.60 as sales of its Quaker Foods cereals and products boosted earnings by 13 percent over the previous quarter.
The soft drink and snack food company beat Wall Street profit forecasts by 3 cents per share.
The company also reiterated its previous forecasts for full-year earnings.
Wall Street firm Bear Stearns Cos. Inc. slipped 7 cents to $106.71 after it said in a regulatory filing it may pay $200 million or more to settle charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission that the company helped hedge funds improperly trade shares of mutual funds.
Bear Stearns said it added $100 million to its legal reserve to cover the costs.
New Jersey-based Hudson United Bancorp. Inc. surged 11 percent, or $4.14, to $41.64 after it agreed to be purchased by Portland, Maine-based TD Banknorth Inc. for $1.9 million in cash and stock.
The deal, due to close in the first quarter of 2006, would create a strong regional bank in New England, upstate New York and New Jersey.
TD Banknorth Inc. dropped 86 cents to $29.10.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 9 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.46 billion shares, compared with 1.41 billion on Monday. - AP