NEW YORK Wall Street edged higher on Wednesday after a sharp rise in oil prices boosted energy shares, while encouraging data on the labour market helped financial stocks.
U.S. oil prices CLc1 jumped more than 3 percent to $40.84 a barrel, rising for the first time in six days, after a larger-than-expected gasoline draw offset a surprise build in U.S. crude stockpiles. WTI crude had fallen below $40 for the first time since April earlier in the week.
The S&P energy index .SPNY was up 1 percent as the best performing of the 10 major S&P groups.
"If (oil) does break $40 and goes to $35, the energy stocks are going to get clocked once again," said Ken Polcari, Director of the NYSE floor division at O’Neil Securities in New York.
"If it holds here at $40 then people may breathe a sigh a relief and say the worst is over."
Data showed the U.S. private sector added 179,000 jobs in July, beating estimates of 170,000. The report comes ahead of the more comprehensive national payrolls report on Friday.
If the labour market is able to build on its recent strength, it could make the case for the Federal Reserve to raise benchmark U.S. interest rates later this year.
Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans said on Wednesday that one rate hike may be appropriate this year, despite his worry that inflation is still undershooting the U.S. central bank's 2 percent target.
The possibility of a rate hike this year helped support financial stocks, along with a 7.2 percent jump in American International Group (AIG.N) after the largest commercial insurer in the United States and Canada reported an operating profit that beat analysts' estimate.
The S&P financial sector .SPSY rose 0.8 percent.
Healthcare shares .SPXHC were lower, weighed down by a 3.5 percent drop in Biogen (BIIB.O). Reuters reported the company has not received any formal expressions of interest from potential acquirers a day after buyout reports sent the stock up more than 9 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 3.94 points, or 0.02 percent, to 18,317.71, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 1.47 points, or 0.07 percent, to 2,158.5 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 9.72 points, or 0.19 percent, to 5,147.45.
Tesla (TSLA.O) and Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA.O) are scheduled to report after the bell.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.66-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.56-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 10 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 59 new highs and 35 new lows.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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