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Stocks inch up after yet another wild ride

| Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NEW YORK — Stocks had another wild day, but there was no big event, no surprise announcement behind the swings.

All that happened was that the euro, battered to a four-year low yesterday before trading began in the United States, started rising again. And the stock market followed the currency shared by 16 European nations.

Shortly after noon, the Dow Jones industrials were down 184 points, seemingly on their way to another in the pile of triple-digit losses they've suffered over the past two weeks as investors worried that Europe's economic problems would spread.

Then the euro, which seesawed after falling to $1.2237, started its move — bumpy, but upward. The Dow also racheted higher, ending with a nearly six-point advance, as investors looked at the euro as an indicator of confidence in the European economies.

Given stocks' erratic moves over the past few weeks, it's likely there will be more volatile days ahead. Traders have many unanswered questions about how Europe will extract itself from its financial mess without hurting its recovery.

"We need to quantify how much Europe can hurt us," said Philip Dow, managing director of equity strategy at RBC Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis. He said it could take a month or two before investors have a better sense of whether the debt problems in Europe will spread.

Other investments viewed as risky had a rough time yesterday. Oil traded below $70 a barrel for the first time since February but finished above that psychological benchmark. Oil is priced in dollars so a stronger dollar discourages investors from buying oil. Crude fell $1.45 to $70.16 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Energy stocks, which make up about 10 percent of the Standard & Poor's 500 index, dropped when oil fell. Shares of consumer staples companies, considered to be safer bets in weak economies, rose.

Peabody Energy Corp. fell 5.3 percent. Procter & Gamble Co., which makes Tide detergent and Gillette razors, rose 1.3 percent.

The Dow rose 5.67, or 0.1 percent, to 10,625.83. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.26, or 0.1 percent, to 1,136.94, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 7.38, or 0.3 percent, to 2,354.23.

Three stocks fell for every two that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 5.93 billion shares, compared to 6.01 billion Friday.

Bond prices fell after steep gains last week. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.50 percent from 3.46 percent late Friday.

Gold fell 50 cents to $1,227.30 an ounce.

A forecast from home-improvement retailer Lowe's Cos. hurt sentiment. The stock fell 81 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $25.26.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.73, or 0.3 percent, to 695.71.

Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.1 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 0.1 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 0.5 percent. Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 2.2 percent.

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