NEW YORK - Stocks finished higher yesterday as investors set aside some concerns about downbeat economic reports and focused on a strong profit from Oracle Corp.
Corporate results and economic news offered investors a mixed picture and kept stocks fluctuating throughout much of the session.
Oracle's upbeat results poked holes in Wall Street's recent pessimism, and even the Bear Stearns Cos. Inc.'s report of its first quarterly loss seemed to offer relief to those who said its results could have been worse.
Economic news, however, appeared to weigh on investors at times. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve said at midday that its index of regional business conditions showed a reading of a negative 5.7, down sharply from a positive 8.2 in November.
The report came after word that a gauge of future business activity fell last month to its lowest level in more than two years. The Conference Board said its index of leading indicators, which looks three to six months ahead, dropped 0.4 percent in November. The reading suggests the economy could weaken this winter and possibly into the spring amid tight credit and continued troubles in the housing sector.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 38.37, or 0.29 percent, to 13,245.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 7.12, or 0.49 percent, to 1,460.12, and Oracle's results helped push the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index up 39.85, or 1.53 percent, to 2,640.86.
In corporate news, Bear Stearns rose 82 cents to close at $91.42 after reporting that turmoil in the credit markets reduced the investment bank's portfolio by $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, leading to a hefty loss.
Oracle rose $1.34, or 6.45 percent, to $22.10 after its report.
Meanwhile, investors still faced questions about the health of the credit markets. MBIA Inc. fell $7.07, or 26.17 percent, to $19.95 after Fitch Ratings Inc. warned it might cut its rating on MBIA in the next six weeks if the nation's largest bond insurer cannot find $1 billion in new capital. MBIA has said its investment holdings included more than $30 billion of the risky debt that has troubled Wall Street in recent months.
Oil futures gave up earlier gains and settled lower yesterday as concerns about the economy overrode forecasts that OPEC oil shipments were falling. Light, sweet crude oil for February delivery fell 18 cents to settle at $91.06 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.