NEW YORK — Wall Street managed to finish an erratic session with a moderate gain Wednesday as investors found some comfort in upbeat data on durable goods orders.

Oil prices, however, remain a big focus on Wall Street. Crude's recovery from its lows Wednesday ate into some of the stock market's enthusiasm over the Commerce Department's durable goods report; the government said orders for items including aircraft, machinery, cars, refrigerators and computers slipped 0.5 percent last month.

Wall Street expected a steeper decline. Excluding transportation, orders rose 2.5 percent — the sharpest increase in nine months. And orders for electrical equipment and appliances jumped 27.8 percent, the largest-ever increase.

But oil's comeback touched off renewed worries that high energy prices will hurt businesses and their customers. Hesitation among shoppers isn't what Wall Street wants, as consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

"It seems that the good news is really being kind of overshadowed by high oil prices," said Richard Sparks, a senior equity analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati. "The fear is that higher oil prices might drive us into that recessionary area."

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 45.68, or 0.36 percent, to 12,594.03. The blue chips had been down more than 45 points earlier in the session.

Broader stock indicators also ended higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.49, or 0.40 percent, to 1,390.84, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 5.46, or 0.22 percent, to 2,486.70.


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