US stocks end mixed on rising oil, financial worries

NEW YORK: Wall Street closed mixed Thursday after investors largely shrugged off a jump in oil prices and focused instead on a bullish analyst call on Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. that eased worries about the financial sector.

Stocks ended off their lows of the session after a Ladenburg Thalmann analyst raised his rating on Lehman to "buy,'' saying he believes the nation's fourth-biggest investment bank has become a "hostile takeover candidate.''

That call helped ease concerns about that company as well as the financial sector, which has been hit by a spike in bad mortgage debt.

The partial recovery in financials as well as gains by energy producers themselves helped contain investors' anxiety over a jump in oil of more than $5 a barrel.

Prices rose as investors questioned whether rising tensions with Russia could disrupt energy shipments from the world's second-largest oil producer.

Often an uptick in oil will fan Wall Street's fears of inflation.

"It's remarkable how well the market has held up,'' said Quincy Krosby, chief investment strategist for The Hartford, referring to the performance of stocks in the face of a jump in oil.

She said the gains by the energy sector helped corral selling pressure on a day of light volume, which can lead to volatility.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 12.78, or 0.11 percent, to 11,430.21.

The Dow managed a moderate gain on Wednesday after heavy losses the first two days of the week.

Broader stock indicators ended mixed Thursday.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.18, or 0.25 percent, to 1,277.72.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 8.70, or 0.36 percent, to 2,380.38.

Bond prices fell.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.84 percent from 3.80 percent late Wednesday.

Gold prices jumped as the dollar moved lower against other major currencies.

Light, sweet crude surged $5.62 to settle at $121.18 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Stocks recovered after oil retreated from a session high of $122.04 - a trading level not seen since Aug. 4.

While oil prices remain well off their July 11 high of $147.27, any rebound can be worrisome because inflation readings this week and last week showed prices rose for consumers and businesses at a faster pace than expected.

Investors responded to Thursday's climb in oil by sending shares of energy companies higher.

Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. showed the strongest performance among the 30 stocks that make up the Dow industrials.

Exxon rose $1.54, or 2 percent, to $80.35, while Chevron rose $2.06, or 2.4 percent, to $88.52.

But the rise in oil also weighed on some sectors, such as airlines.

United Airlines parent UAL Corp. fell $1.07, or 8.6 percent, to $11.33, while Continental Airlines Inc. fell 82 cents, or 5.4 percent, to $14.34.

With the focus on oil and financials, investors appeared unimpressed by a better-than-expected snapshot of demand at some factories.

The Philadelphia Fed said regional manufacturing activity is increasing in August by more than it did in July.

The Conference Board's leading economic indicators report, which is designed to predict economic activity in the next three to six months, showed a 0.7 percent drop for July compared with a 0.1 percent decline in June.

Investors also looked past a larger-than-expected drop last week in unemployment claims from newly laid-off workers.

The four-week moving average for claims hit a nearly seven-year high.

The Labor Department said claims fell by 13,000 to 432,000, but that the four-week average rose to 445,750.

A shaky job market has been slamming consumers who also face a tighter credit climate, rising costs and falling home prices.

That is troubling to investors as consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

"All three reports tend to indicate that we're bottoming out but that there is no real end in sight and that's what I think the market has to get used to,'' said Doug

Roberts, chief investment strategist at Channel Capital Research.

The fluctuations of oil and financials dictated the mood on Wall Street Thursday.

Investors have been fearful as banks and other lenders are hit by consumers who are falling behind on payments for mortgages and other debt.

A slew of analysts have been downgrading banks and brokerages over the past few weeks, and late Wednesday, Citigroup lowered its third-quarter estimates for the investment banks Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley.

Citi predicted Lehman will write down its assets by $2.9 billion, that Goldman will write down $1.8 billion and that Morgan will write down $1.7 billion.

But the Ladenburg Thalmann note helped the sector, by arguing that Lehman Brothers' management values the company at a premium and would be willing to sell at the right price.

Lehman ended down 1 cent at $13.72, while Goldman Sachs fell $1.83 to $156.42 and Morgan Stanley fell 34 cents to $37.06.

The fluctuations came a day after fresh worries emerged about the possibility of a government bailout of government-chartered mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Such a move could wipe out shareholder equity.

Fannie and Freddie ended mixed after falling more than 20 percent Wednesday.

Fannie rose 45 cents, or 10 percent, to $4.85, while Freddie fell 9 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $3.06.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 912 million shares compared with 1.07 billion shares traded Wednesday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 6.35, or 0.87 percent, to 725.25.

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