NEW YORK — Wall Street fell moderately Monday in an erratic session dominated by worries about inflation — which were somewhat soothed by a steep drop in the price of oil.

Light, sweet crude closed down $3.69, or 2.9 percent, to settle at $121.41 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after Tropical Storm Edouard seemed unlikely to threaten oil and natural gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the lowest settlement price since May 5 and left crude down nearly 20 percent from its July 11 high of $147.27.

That decline eased some of investors' worries about inflation. Wall Street initially sold off after the Commerce Department said an inflation gauge tied to consumer spending rose by a sharp 0.8 percent in June, reflecting higher gasoline prices. That was the biggest jump in the indicator since a 1 percent rise in February 1981.

The data came in the department's report on consumer spending, which fell 0.2 percent in June after removing the effects of higher prices. The increase in inflation offset some of the billions in dollars in checks sent to taxpayers as part of the government's economic stimulus plan.

The report fed investors' growing concerns about the impact of rising prices on consumers, whose spending is the lifeblood of the economy.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 42.17, or 0.37 percent, to 11,284.15. The Dow had been down more than 100 points in early trading.

Broader stock indicators also declined. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 11.30, or 0.90 percent, to 1,249.01, and the Nasdaq composite index declined 25.40, or 1.10 percent, to 2,285.56.

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