NEW YORK Wall Street ended a choppy session with a moderate advance Wednesday after a better-than-expected profit report at Boeing Co. and a seesaw day in the energy markets.
Boeing, one of the 30 stocks that comprise the Dow Jones industrial average, reported a 38 percent jump in first-quarter earnings. The airplane manufacturers' results, along with stronger-than-anticipated forecasts at chip makers Broadcom Corp. and Anadigics Inc., appeared to buoy investor sentiment about the first-quarter earnings season.
Investors also reacted positively to Liberty Mutual's plans to acquire another insurance company, Safeco. The $6.12 billion deal which would create the country's fifth-biggest property insurer sent Safeco shares surging $20.71, or 46 percent, to $65.94.
Still, the stock market's movements were somewhat erratic Wednesday, as investors concerned about inflation kept an eye on fluctuating oil prices. Oil initially pulled back but then rebounded again, as the government reported a rise in crude inventories but a drop in gasoline stockpiles. A day earlier, a record high price for oil had helped send shares skidding.
"I think you're just going to get continued volatility," said Kevin Shacknofsky, co-portfolio manager of the Alpine Dynamic Dividend Fund in Purchase, N.Y. He cited investors' concerns not only about rising energy prices, but also the health of the financial sector.
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow rose 42.99, or 0.34 percent, to 12,763.22, after spiking 117 points, giving up those gains to trade down 17 points, and then recovering some ground.
Broader stock indicators also closed higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.99, or 0.29 percent, to 1,379.93. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index logged a more sizable advance, rising 28.27, or 1.19 percent, to 2,405.21.
Light, sweet crude for June delivery rose 23 cents to settle at $118.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while gasoline touched all-time highs. On Tuesday, May crude futures hit a trading record of $119.90.
Bond prices fell. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.74 percent from 3.69 percent late Tuesday.
The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.
Bill Schultz, chief investment officer at McQueen, Ball & Associates in Bethlehem, Pa., said quarterly results so far haven't given investors enough insight into what will drive profit growth in the coming quarters.
"Where does this earnings growth come from going forward? Maybe we haven't seen the last of the subprime problem or the consumer slowdown," he said. "I think people are just struggling to determine what is going to be the catalyst."
He also said investors are worried about rising energy prices weighing on consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.
"You have concerns now that the higher gas prices will exacerbate the slowdown," he said.
Wall Street has been digesting the flood of corporate numbers arriving in recent weeks as it tries to ascertain how long a slowdown in the economy might last. With little in the way of economic news expected this week, investors are left to concentrate on corporate news and await the next interest rate decision from the Federal Reserve, which is due in a week.
Boeing rose $3.53, or 4.5 percent, to $82.09 after its earnings report. Broadcom rose $3.84, or 16.3 percent, to $27.39, while Anadigics jumped $2.76, or 33.1 percent, to $11.09.
Some corporate results arriving Wednesday painted a lackluster picture, however. Bond insurer Ambac Financial Group declined $2.47, or 41 percent, to $3.56 after it said it swung to a loss of $1.66 billion from a profit of $213.3 million a year earlier. The loss came in part because of charges for bonds backed by soured mortgages.
Advancing issues outpaced decliners by about 8 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a 1.35 billion shares.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 4.40, or 0.63 percent, to 708.11.Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average gained 0.23 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.81 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 0.99 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 1.48 percent.