NEW YORK - Stocks closed mostly lower yesterday after a dip in oil prices failed to ease investors' worries about the economic effects of high energy costs.
Crude oil's retreat below $132 a barrel did encourage some investors to search for stock bargains created by recent plunges. The financial sector, for one, saw strong demand after taking a beating Monday when Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. reported a larger-than-expected quarterly loss.
But the overall stock market was volatile, with investors flummoxed about the direction of the economy. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said late Monday that, while a substantial downturn seems unlikely, inflation risks were growing. His remarks raised expectations that the central bank might raise interest rates later this year to curb inflation. More expensive borrowing could jeopardize an economic rebound.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 9.44, or 0.08 percent, to 12,289.76. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.32, or 0.24 percent, to 1,358.44, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 10.52, or 0.43 percent, to 2,448.94.
Crude dropped $3.04 to settle at $131.31 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The dollar rose against other major currencies, while gold prices tumbled.
Many investors have been banking on the weak dollar's boosting exports and thereby fueling the economy. But the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. trade deficit had a larger-than-expected jump in April, as higher oil prices and increased oil consumption offset a climb in exports.
The biggest gainers among the 30 Dow companies were Coca-Cola Co., which was upgraded by an analyst yesterday, and Citigroup Inc., which rebounded from a decline Monday. Coca-Cola rose $2.15, or 3.85 percent, to $58.01, while Citigroup rose 66 cents, or 3.37 percent, to $20.26.
The biggest loser in the Dow was Chevron Corp., which lost ground as oil prices sank. Chevron fell $2.42, or 2.39 percent, to $98.78.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 2.63, or 0.36 percent, to 732.62.
Bernanke's comments caused selling overnight in Asia, where the Nikkei 225 average closed 1.1 percent lower. Britain's FTSE 100 index closed down 0.86 percent, Germany's DAX index gave up 0.65 percent, and France's CAC-40 declined 0.80 percent.