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US Stocks Inch Higher After 2-Day Rally12/19 16:05

   Oil and gas companies led the stock market up Friday, helping the Standard & 
Poor's 500 index notch its second-best week this year.

   NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil and gas companies led the stock market up Friday, 
helping the Standard & Poor's 500 index notch its second-best week this year.

   With little news to give them direction, traders continued to push indexes 
higher. That extended a rally from Wednesday when the Federal Reserve said it 
was in no hurry to hike interest rates.

   "What a very crazy week," said Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P 
Capital IQ.

   Benchmark U.S. crude bounced up from recent lows, climbing $2.36 to settle 
at $56.52 a barrel in New York, as traders bet that a 6-month plunge in prices 
had gone too far. Chevron, Denbury Resources and other energy companies led 
nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 to gains.

   Nike's stock dropped $2.24, or 2 percent, to $94.84. The maker of athletic 
apparel posted results that beat Wall Street's forecasts late Thursday, but a 
drop in orders from Japan and developing markets in Asia overshadowed an 
otherwise strong quarter.

   The S&P 500 gained 9.42 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,070.65, bringing its 
weekly gain to 3.4 percent.

   The Nasdaq composite picked up 16.98 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,765.38, 
and the Dow Jones industrial average rose 26.65 points, or 0.1 percent, to 
17,804.80.

   At the start of the week, slumping oil prices and the state of the world 
economy were investors' main worries. A plunge in the Russian currency, the 
ruble, added to a sense of unease.

   The turnaround came Wednesday, when Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve 
chairwoman, said she saw no reason to hike interest rates in early 2015 and 
that the central bank would be "patient" in deciding when to raise rates from 
near zero. Her comments eased concerns that the Fed would start raising rates 
when growth in other major economies has looked weak. Traders celebrated, 
driving the S&P 500 up 4.5 percent over two days.

   "It's just crazy volatility," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist 
and economist at Wells Capital Management. Paulsen pointed to the magnitude of 
the market's turn. Before the Fed's statement came out on Wednesday, the S&P 
500 was on course for a second week of losses. Two days later, it closed out 
one of its best weeks this year.

   Stock markets in Asia climbed in the wake of the big gains in Europe and the 
U.S. on Thursday. Japan's Nikkei 225 jumped 2.4 percent, while South Korea's 
Kospi added 1.7 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 1.3 percent.

   "The major equity markets are finishing the trading year on a positive note 
thanks to Janet Yellen's Christmas message," said Neil MacKinnon, global macros 
strategist at VTB Capital. He said that with no major economic reports coming 
out, the markets will soon "switch into holiday mode," as traders head off for 
vacations.

   Back in the U.S., strong quarterly results from Red Hat, an open-source 
software company, drove its stock up 11 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 
500. Red Hat reported better earnings and sales than analysts had expected late 
Thursday. Its stock soared $6.54 to $68.04.

   CarMax jumped 11 percent after the used-car dealership posted a 22 percent 
surge in its quarterly profits thanks to higher sales. The company's results 
beat analysts' estimates, sending its stock up $6.79 to $67.32.

   U.S. government bond prices rose, nudging yields down. The yield on the 
benchmark 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2.16 percent.

   In the commodity markets, gold edged up $1.20 to $1,196 an ounce, while 
silver added 10 cents to $16.03 an ounce. Copper rose 3 cents to $2.88 a pound.

   Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. 
refineries, rose $2.11 to close at $61.38 in London.

   In other futures trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange:

   -- Wholesale gasoline rose 3.3 cents to close at $1.560 a gallon.

   -- Heating oil rose 2.3 cents to close at $1.962 a gallon.

   -- Natural gas fell 17.8 cents to close at $3.464 per 1,000 cubic feet. 
Forecasts for a mild winter, have pushed natural gas to its lowest price since 
November 2013.


(KA)


 
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