NEW YORK Stocks finished higher Thursday as investors set aside some concerns about downbeat economic reports and focused on strong profits from Oracle Corp.
Corporate results and economic news offered investors a mixed picture and kept stocks fluctuating throughout much of the session.
Oracle Corp.'s upbeat results poked holes in Wall Street's recent pessimism, and even a report from Bear Stearns Cos. of its first-ever quarterly loss seemed to offer relief to those fearing its results could have been worse.
Economic news appeared to weigh on investors at times during the session. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve said Thursday its index of regional business conditions showed a reading of a negative 5.7, down sharply from a positive 8.2 in November.
The Fed report came after word that a gauge of future business activity fell last month to its lowest level in more than two years. The Conference Board said its index of leading indicators, which looks three to six months ahead, dropped 0.4 percent in November. The reading suggests the economy could weaken this winter and possibly into the spring amid tight credit and continued troubles in the housing sector.
But investors ultimately seemed to look beyond the economic news.
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 38.37, or 0.29 percent, to 13,245.64.
Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 7.12, 0.49 percent, to 1,460.12, and Oracle's results helped push the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index up 39.85, or 1.53 percent, to 2,640.86.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 9 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.38 billion shares compared with 1.35 billion shares traded Wednesday.
The report from Bear Stearns came a day after Morgan Stanley said an investment arm of the Chinese government had agreed to invest $5 billion in the company. The news calmed some fears that Wall Street's major players would face severe liquidity crunches as banks worldwide continue to refrain from lending to each other amid concerns about souring debt tied to mortgages.
Doug Roberts, chief investment strategist at Channel Capital Research, contends the ability of banks like Morgan Stanley and earlier Citigroup Inc. to arrange cash infusions from well-healed foreign governments appeared to quiet some of Wall Street's unease.
"The Morgan Stanley announcement combined with the Citigroup announcement establishes this kind of a backstop on the financials. It's not a firm thing, but it kind of gives the shorts some room for pause," he said, referring to short-sellers. Short sellers profit by accurately predicting when stocks will fall.
He also said Oracle's results indicate that some companies will still be able post growth figures even as tight credit markets make it harder for other companies to raise capital.
The stock market's relatively quiet session follows several up-and-down weeks that have left investors trying to gauge how well the economy will fare.
While Wall Street heads toward holiday-shortened weeks that often bring little action, stocks could still see volatility, particularly given the expiration of options contracts Friday. Known as "quadruple witching," it marks the expiration of contracts for stock index futures, stock index options, stock options and single stock futures.
In corporate news, Bear Stearns rose 82 cents to $91.42 after its report that turmoil in the credit market reduced the investment bank's portfolio by $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, leading to a hefty loss.
Oracle rose $1.34, or 6.5 percent, to $22.10 after its report.
Meanwhile, FedEx Corp. fell $1 to $93.63 after posting a 6 percent decline in quarterly earnings amid high fuel costs and a U.S. economic slowdown. The company also issued a forecast that fell below expectations.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 11.41, or 1.51 percent, to 767.54.
Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 4.05 percent from 4.03 percent late Wednesday.
The dollar rose against other most major currencies, while gold prices fell.Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.01 percent, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index slipped 0.05 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.97 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 0.41 percent and France's CAC-40 rose 0.26 percent.