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Stocks edge up after Japan earthquake, lower oil

By Francesca Levy

Associated Press

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NEW YORK » Stocks nudged higher Friday as investors gauged the fallout from a massive earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan. The quake, one of the largest in history, triggered massive tsunami waves that killed hundreds.

The prospect of falling oil demand from Japan, the world's third-largest oil consumer, sent crude prices down sharply, as did the failure of anticipated protests in Saudi Arabia to draw large crowds. Oil dipped below $100 for the first time this month. Crude fell $1.67 to $101.02 a barrel.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 41 points, or 0.3 percent, to 12,025 in afternoon trading.

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 7.4, or 0.6 percent, to 1,302. Energy companies, which drove stocks lower Thursday, were among the biggest gainers in the S&P 500. Tesoro Corp. rose 7.3 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 500. Valero Energy Corp. rose 6.3 percent after the company agreed to buy oil refineries from Chevron Corp. in the U.K. and Ireland.

Companies that benefit from global infrastructure expansion did well as investors anticipated that Japan would be in need of widespread rebuilding. AK Steel Holding Corp. rose 6.2 percent. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. rose 5.6 percent.

The Nasdaq composite rose 11.4, or 0.4 percent, to 2,712.

The drop in oil and a stronger-than-expected report on retail sales Friday were tempered by fears that the quake could destroy wealth and that tsunami waves could hit as far away as the Hawaii and the West coast of the U.S.

In addition to the earthquake, another factor pushing oil prices lower was relief that a day of protests in Saudi Arabia only drew a few hundred people, and none in the capital. Oil traders have been worried the violence in the middle east and North Africa would spread to the world's No. 1 oil exporter.

"The market is going to be see-sawing back and forth" until the long-term effects of the unrest in the Middle East and the disaster in Japan become clear, said Anthony Chan, chief economist for J.P. Morgan Wealth Management.

The Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose 1 percent in February, the biggest gain in four months and more than the 0.8 percent analysts had expected. Shoppers laid out more cash for cars, clothing and gadgets in February, leading to an eighth month of gains.

Stocks fell sharply Thursday on weak economic news from China, the U.S. and Spain combined with a slump in oil company shares. The Dow Jones industrial average had its biggest drop since August 11. Other than several large swings in the past month, stocks have been climbing steadily since September.

"It could be time for a well-deserved rest," said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist for Schaeffer's Investment Research. "The markets had a spectacular six-month rally and now they're showing some slight cracks."

The yield on the 10-year U.S. treasury note rose to 3.4 percent. Gold futures rose to $1,417 an ounce. An index that measures the U.S. dollar against other currencies fell 0.5 percent.

The quake caused a selloff in global stock markets, led by sharp drops in insurance companies. Japan's Nikkei closed down 1.7 percent. The yen remained stable, however, because it is seen as a relatively safe investment for international traders.

The yield on the 10-year U.S. treasury note rose to 3.4 percent. Gold futures rose to $1,417 an ounce. An index that measures the U.S. dollar against other currencies fell 0.5 percent.







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