Sun, Feb 26, 2012 - Page 10 News List

US stock markets inch toward three-year highs


US stock markets climbed steadily, if unspectacularly, this week, nearing three-year highs despite worry over rising oil prices and Europe’s slow boil debt crisis.

“Stocks were in a bear market from October 2007 until March 2009,” said Beth Ann Bovino of Standard & Poor’s (S&P). “They have now recovered much of those losses.”

The holiday-shortened week saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average hover above the symbolic threshold of 13,000 points, helping add to confidence about the growing economy and falling unemployment.

At the end of the week, the Dow was up 0.3 percent at 12,982.95 points. The NASDAQ rose 0.4 percent and the S&P 500 rose 0.3 percent.

“A stronger job market is helping the US weather headwinds from both home and abroad,” said economists at Nomura, a Japanese bank.

One of those headwinds is higher oil prices, which have been rising on tensions in Iran.

While prices have been on the rise for some time, there was renewed focus this week as US politicians talked extensively about what can be done to stem the rise in this election year.

“Oil prices are on the rise again and concerns are growing about their impact on the recovery,” IHS Global Insight economists Paul Edelstein said.

“The situation is reminiscent of early-2011, when Brent oil prices reached US$126 a barrel, creating a growth pocket in the middle of the year,” he said.

“If oil prices stay persistently high or continue to rise, growth forecasts will likely be revised downward, but it would take a much bigger spike in prices to sink the US economy back into recession,” he said.

Higher oil prices spelled a boon for the oil majors. ExxonMobil was up 2 percent for the week, and Chevron was up 2.3 percent

Airlines got the raw end of that trade. US Airways plunged 21 percent, United Continental 13 percent and Delta 12 percent for the week.

In other sectors Wal-Mart saw steep declines, down 5.9 percent following disappointing quarterly earnings. Hewlett-Packard suffered a nearly 10 percent drop after reporting a 44 percent profit fall in its fiscal first quarter.

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