Nasdaq Sets the Pace - TheStreet

Nasdaq Sets the Pace

The Nasdaq finishes up 17 points, while the Dow and S&P close slightly above the flat line.
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NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- Stocks traded in a tight range on Wednesday and eked out gains by the closing bell, as surging commodity prices helped offset a lackluster new-home sales report.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

added nearly 2 points to 10,466. The

S&P 500

improved 3 points, or 0.2%, to 1121, while the tech-heavy

Nasdaq

added 17 points, or 0.8%, to 2270.

But financial stocks weighed on the major market averages in the afternoon, as the KBW Bank Index fell 1.1%.

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

and

JPMorgan Chase

(JPM) - Get Report

slid 0.9% and 0.9%, respectively.

>>McDonald's, DirecTV, Colgate: Top 5 Stocks

The major market averages gave up gains in the morning after new-home sales widely missed consensus estimates. The Commerce Department said sales slumped 11% in November at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 355,000 units. Analysts had expected a more robust pace of 438,000 units, according to forecasts provided by Briefing.com.

Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies, noted that the new-home sales mark was "disappointing," considering it did not reaffirm the more buoyant

existing-home sales jump reported on Tuesday.

Though the contradiction had markets fluttering today, a sharper-than-expected decline in crude inventories helped buoy gains. Crude oil futures for February delivery rallied $2.27 to settle at $76.67 a barrel after the Energy Information Administration said stockpiles fell by 4.9 million barrels last week.

The decline outpaced the 2 million-barrel drawdown expected by analysts surveyed by Platts. Gasoline inventories also dropped by 900,000 barrels, while distillate fuel stocks declined by 3.1 million barrels.

The surge in the futures contract carried over into related energy stocks, as the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector Index advanced 1.5% and the NYSE Arca Index rose 0.5%.

Schlumberger

(SLB) - Get Report

shares also added 2% after analysts at Barclays upgraded the oil services concern to overweight from equal weight.

Still, Hogan said that "it's hard to put a great deal of credence on what's happening this week. Volumes have been extremely light to begin with. Then we have a holiday week, which lightens things up even more. We'll see what kind of volumes we get tomorrow and for the rest of next week.

"But it's really difficult to make a firm decision about market direction during quiet-volume weeks," Hogan added. "But I would say if things continue the way they are, we may be able to push a little higher."

A Commerce Department assessment earlier this morning showed upticks in personal incomes and spending in November. Personal income increased 0.4%, though analysts had expected a 0.5% rise. Still, incomes made their biggest gain in six months. Spending edged higher by 0.5%, which was just short of the estimated 0.7% gain.

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index was revised down to 72.5 in December after a preliminary release showed a 6-point surge to 73.4. Analysts had expected the month's final revision to land at 73.8. Still, the December's ultimate figure surpassed a November reading at 67.4.

The February gold contract settled at $1,094 an ounce after sliding $7.30, as the Dollar Index declined by 0.5%. Metal-related stocks got a lift from the futures boost, as the Philadelphia Gold and Silver Index rose 3.3%. Material stocks like

Freeport-McMoRan

(FCX) - Get Report

and

Newmont Mining

(NEM) - Get Report

advanced 3.1% and 2.8%, respectively.

Analyst upgrades also fueled a pop in shares for

The New York Times

(NYT) - Get Report

and

Gannett

(GCI) - Get Report

today, with each rising 9.7% and 7%, respectively.

Shares of

Micron

(MU) - Get Report

and

Red Hat

(RHT) - Get Report

jumped 6.2% and 5.2% higher, respectively, after both reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings following Tuesday's close.

On the other hand,

Cintas

(CTAS) - Get Report

shares shed over 11% after the company missed profit forecasts.

Elsewhere,

Ford

(F) - Get Report

agreed on the substantive commercial terms to

sell Volvo to

China's

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group

.

Also,

Research In Motion

(RIMM)

reported another major

BlackBerry service outage on Tuesday, which continued to affect some customers Wednesday morning.

Overseas, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.1%. The FTSE in London was up 0.8%, as the DAX in Frankfurt improved 0.2%.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York