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U.S. Stocks Ease Off Session Highs

But the Dow, up some 230 points in early trading, still holds a 100-point gain as oil prices remain stymied.

Updated from 11:49 a.m. EDT

Stocks in New York were easing recently from their early highs but still marking substantial gains after a weaker-than-feared Hurricane Gustav failed to cause major oil-supply disruptions, sending the price of crude substantially lower.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

, up as much as 230 points, lately soared 100 points to 11,644, and the

S&P 500

was up 2.6 points to 1285. The

Nasdaq

added 4.2 points to 2372.

As trading got under way for the Labor Day-shortened week, the price of crude oil was plummeting $6.53 to $108.93, after Gustav hit the Louisiana coast but largely spared New Orleans and energy-production facilities in the area. Gold was down $26.80 to $808.40.

"I think you're going to see a continuation of the selloff

in oil, which obviously is beneficial to equities in the short term," said Chris Johnson, CEO and chief investment strategist at Johnson Research. He said that on a technical basis, the next important price levels for crude are $100, then $90.

Johnson said that speculative money has largely left the oil trade. "This group ... went from being net long to net short in about a week or so," he said. "The speculators are the first ones out. Now everybody else is going to get out." He said that the decline in oil prices will benefit equities as money that had sat on the sideline or been in commodities will need to find another place to go.

As for corporate news, Internet company

Google

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said it will develop its own Web browser, called Chrome, in an effort to compete with

Microsoft

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.

Elsewhere in technology,

Alcatel-Lucent

(ALU)

appointed Ben Verwayyan, former head of

BT Group

, as its new CEO. Alcatel-Lucent also selected Philippe Camus to be its nonexecutive chairman.

In another shakeup,

Ford

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appointed Stephen Odell to head up its Volvo brand. Odell replaces Frederik Arp.

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On the M&A front,

Chesapeake Energy

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and

BP's

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American business announced a deal that would give BP 25% interest in Chesapeake's Fayetteville Shale development for $1.9 billion.

Shares of

Sciele Pharma

(SCRX)

were rising after Japanese company Shionogi said it would buy the drugmaker for $1.1 billion.

Meanwhile, a

Korea Development Bank

executive confirmed the bank is holding discussions to buy a stake in struggling brokerage

Lehman Brothers

(LEH)

, continuing a rumor that has been around for the past couple of weeks.

Fellow financial-sector member

Bank of America

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saw shares rise on a Goldman Sachs buy recommendation.

Airline manufacturer

Boeing

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has been

unable to reach an agreement

with its largest union over a new labor contract, raising the chances of a strike by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Away from stocks, longer-dated U.S. Treasury securities were ticking upward. The 10-year note was up 17/32 to yield 3.75%, and the 30-year was climbing 28/32, yielding 4.37%. The dollar was rising sharply against the euro, yen and pound. The dollar index, which tracks the dollar against a basket of foreign currencies, was up 0.6% at 78.04.

Turning to the day's economic data, the U.S. Census Bureau's look at July construction spending showed a 0.6% decline for July, down from a 0.3% increase in June and a wider decline than the 0.4% economists were expecting. The Institute for Supply Management's August manufacturing index registered 49.9, vs. estimates for a read of 50.

Overseas, European indices were looking strong, as the FTSE in London and the Dax in Frankfurt posted gains. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei was dropping, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was slightly higher.