U.S. stocks hold steady, oil sinks below $80
By Richard Leong
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stock prices held firm on Thursday after the Dow and Standard & Poor's 500 reached record intraday highs, while crude fell below $80 a barrel for the first time in four years on further signs of a slowdown in China's economy.
Brent crude, which has fallen more than 30 percent since June, settled down $2.46 or 3.1 percent at $77.92 a barrel, while U.S. oil futures settled down $2.97 or 3.85 percent at $74.21.
Data from Beijing showed below-forecast factory output and investment growth at a near-13-year low, reinforcing signs that the world's second-biggest economy would have its weakest growth in almost 24 years this year.
"Energy prices continue to be a headwind," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.
Falling energy costs, while a positive for consumers, have raised concerns about profits of major oil companies and their capital spending, analysts said.
Encouraging sales results from Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, offset weakness in the energy sector on Wall Street along with concerns that the market is overstretched.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 40.59 points, or 0.23 percent, to 17,652.79, the S&P 500 ended up 1.08 points, or 0.05 percent, to 2,039.33 and the Nasdaq Composite finished 5.01 points, or 0.11 percent higher, at 4,680.14.
Top European shares closed up 0.2 percent at 1,346.56, reversing an earlier decline driven by a 1.7 percent drop in an index of regional oil and gas shares. Continued...