Tech Leads Stocks Higher

The market rises after an early struggle. The Nasdaq surges.
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Updated from 4:13 p.m. EDT

As has been the case all week, stocks were erratic Wednesday, but this time the major averages clawed back from losses and ended upbeat despite a weak reading on monthly durable-goods orders.

The tech-heavy

Nasdaq Composite

led the charge, reversing losses early and ultimately adding 31.19 points, or 1.21%, to 2605.35.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

had been lower by as much as 78 points, but it turned around and rose 90.07 points, or 0.68%, to 13,427.73. The

S&P 500

was higher by 13.45 points, or 0.9%, to 1506.34.

"We're in a period of the year where it should be quiet, but it's been anything but," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist with Windham Financial. "This could be window dressing before end-of-quarter. Buyers that had chased the market to record highs don't want the market to reverse on them, so they're trying to hold it up."

To date, the Dow has gained 7.7% for the year, the S&P 500 is up 6.2%, and the Nasdaq has climbed 7.9%. However, for the month of June, the Dow is down 1.4% and the S&P 500 has lost 1.6%. The Nasdaq is flat for the month.

The day's gains came despite a jump in energy prices. The government's weekly inventory report showed an unexpected draw of 700,000 barrels in gasoline inventories last week. Distillate stocks fell by 2.3 million barrels, and crude inventories rose by 1.6 million barrels.

The front-month August oil contract surged by $1.20 to $68.97 a barrel, and gasoline was adding a penny to $2.26 a gallon.

While a rise in crude often hurts the major averages, several oil stocks benefited from crude's increase and supported the market. Dow component

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report

rose 2%,

ConocoPhillips

(COP) - Get Report

added 1.9%,

Occidental Petroleum

(OXY) - Get Report

increased 1.7%, and

Chevron

(CVX) - Get Report

was up 1.4%.

Metals prices finished slightly lower following a volatile session, extending the previous session's decline. Gold eased 50 cents to $644.80 an ounce, and silver dipped 7 cents at $12.21 an ounce.

Breadth was positive for the first session this week. About 3.38 billion shares changed hands on the

New York Stock Exchange

, with advancers beating decliners by a 3-to-1 margin. Volume on the Nasdaq reached 2.08 billion shares, as winners outpaced losers 2 to 1.

Early on, a negative report on durable goods, items that are designed to last for more than three years, weighed on the market. The Commerce Department said orders slumped 2.8% in May, compared with a revised increase of 1.1% in April.

Economists had anticipated a 1.7% decline. Excluding transportation, orders were down 1% last month.

"People have been underestimating what's been going on with the economy," said Edgar Peters, chief investment officer with Pan Agora. "It certainly helps with the inflation picture, as this shows the economy isn't that strong. This takes away the possibility of rate hikes. However, we're very susceptible to bad news, which highlights how little traders know what to do."

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist with High Frequency Economics, pointed out that the durable-goods number is hugely volatile month to month.

"This has been very erratic in recent months, with January and February declines offset by March and April gains," said Shepherdson. "But we thought the recent strength in the

Institute for Supply Management Index would be followed by stability at worst. In our view, these data are too unreliable to be definitive."

The

Federal Reserve

is convening for a two-day rate policy meeting, its fourth gathering this year. No change in the target fed funds rate is expected, but the language contained in the accompanying statement will be closely scrutinized.

"There's no strong incentive to buy before the Fed statement

due Thursday," said Peters. "We're likely to see this same volatility at least through tomorrow."

That has certainly been the name of the game this week thus far. During the previous two sessions, stocks have shown signs of strength in the early going. Both times, however, the momentum has faded and led to a lower close.

On Tuesday, the Dow fell 14.39 points, or 0.11%, to 13,337.66, and the S&P 500 slipped 4.85 points, or 0.32%, at 1492.89. The Nasdaq declined 2.92 points, or 0.11%, at 2574.16.

Bond prices were on the rise, pushing down yields. The 10-year Treasury was up 3/32 in price, yielding 5.07%, and the 30-year gained 6/32, yielding 5.19%.

On the corporate side,

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

rose 2.8% after posting a solid quarter and offering an optimistic view on its near-term results. Based on its estimated growth, revenue for the current quarter should come in around $4.31 billion to $4.42 billion, putting it above analysts' expectations.

Also among earnings,

ConAgra

(CAG) - Get Report

beat Wall Street's profit and revenue estimates for the latest quarter and provided guidance for the year that was in line with forecasts.

Cardinal Health

(CAH) - Get Report

reaffirmed its outlook for this fiscal year and next, while lifting its longer-term earnings targets.

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

added 2.5% after word that Bank of America raised its price target on the stock by $4 to $52, in part because a new drug, Januvia, is becoming more accepted.

Overseas, stocks fell. Tokyo's Nikkei dropped 1.2%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng gave back 0.5%. London's FTSE eased 0.5%, and Frankfurt's DAX retreated 0.8%.