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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Markets close higher as oil passes $90 (ext)

NEW YORK ( -- Stocks climbed to hit fresh two-year highs Wednesday, as investors begin to pack up for the holidays and prepare for 2011.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 26 points to end 0.2% higher at 11,559.49 -- its highest level since August 28, 2008.

The S&P 500 (SPX) added 0.3% to end at its highest level since September 19, 2008. Meanwhile the tech-heavy Nasdaq (COMP) ticked up 0.2% to its highest settle since December 28, 2007.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq have posted gains for 14 of the month's 16 trading sessions so far. All three major indexes are positioned for double-digit gains for the year.

Oil prices were in the spotlight Wednesday after a weekly report showed crude stockpiles dropped by 5.3 million barrels last week. The report sent crude prices up to settle at about $90.48 a barrel. Oil prices haven't settled above $90 a barrel since October 2008.

Stock trading is expected to be light heading into the holiday season. But while there's little news on tap for the rest of the year, stocks have trended upward. Bank stocks were the bright spot Wednesday, with Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) and JPMorgan (JPM, Fortune 500) each ending about 3% higher.

"It's a non-event day for the market," said Sal Arnuk, co-head of trading at Themis Trading. "But it's been a great year. So for most of December, traders have been locking in their performance for 2010."

Investors are feeling bullish for 2011, Arnuk said, as economic numbers have begun improving. But they're still waiting for corporations to spend the cash they have sitting on balance sheets by hiring new workers.

The dollar was down against the euro and the Japanese yen, and it was up slightly against the British pound.

Gold futures for February delivery fell $1.40 to settle at $1,387.40 an ounce.

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