US stocks rose, overcoming earlier losses, on Thursday as a jump in oil prices pushed up energy shares, overshadowing a surprising drop in Midwest business activity and a disappointing outlook by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
A nearly 1 percent rally in crude oil prices gave investors a reason to buy energy companies' stocks. Exxon Mobil Corp shares rose 1 per cent and contributed the most to the S&P 500's gain. Exxon Mobil also was among the Dow's biggest advancers.
All three major US stock indexes are firmly on course to end November in positive territory.
Coming off the sidelines, mutual fund managers buying shares ahead of year end pushed the market higher, said Tim Smalls, head of US stock trading at brokerage firm Execution LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 31.17 points, or 0.25 per cent, at 12,257.90. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 5.22 points, or 0.37 per cent, at 1,404.70. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 7.88 points, or 0.32 percent, at 2,440.07.
"Investors are reluctant to chase the market higher here, but any time there's any significant weakness, it seems as though traders are coming in and buying that weakness pretty aggressively," said Michael Malone, trading analyst at Cowen & Co. in New York.
The Nasdaq was on its way to notch a fourth straight month of gains, matching a streak set at the end of 2004, while both the Dow and the S&P 500 were set to register their fifth straight monthly advances. For the Dow, the run would mark its longest winning streak in more than three years.
Among Nasdaq stocks, top advancers included Research in Motion, up 4 per cent at $139.51, and Apple Computer Inc., up 0.5 per cent at $92.28.
Exxon Mobil's shares rose 79 cents to $76.82 on the NYSE as US crude oil for January delivery gained 67 cents to settle at $63.13 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange following a drop in US fuel inventories.
Crude oil prices were headed for their first monthly gain since July and their biggest monthly advance since April.
Shares of U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc., a Dow component, rose 2 per cent to $27.61 after the company raised its 2006 profit forecast.
That positive momentum helped Wall Street overcome the unexpected drop in the National Association of Purchasing Management-Chicago November business barometer, which signaled business contraction in the Midwest for the first time in 3 1/2 years.
Limiting the Dow's advance was energy-hungry chemicals manufacturer DuPont Co., whose stock sank 3 per cent to $46.72 on the NYSE. DuPont also weighed on the S&P 500. For some perspective, though, DuPont shares have risen 20 per cent since the beginning of September.
Another major drag on the Dow was Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, which forecasted little improvement in December sales after posting its first monthly same-store sales drop in more than a decade, sending its stock down 1.1 per cent.
Wal-Mart shares dropped 51 cents to $46.38 on the NYSE.