Wall Street zigzagged through a listless session Monday, closing mostly higher as a spate of acquisitions lifted the technology sector and energy prices extended their declines. The gains were limited by airline woes and worries about interest rates.
Monday's $12 billion in merger activity signaled optimism on Wall Street two weeks after Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast threatened the U.S. economy, but the market treaded water while waiting to see if the Federal Reserve raises rates yet again at next week's meeting. Analysts are split over the Fed's action, with some saying policymakers will stay on course while others believe rates should stay unchanged to fend off an economic retreat.
Investors felt some relief as oil and gasoline futures sank, pulled lower by reports that efforts to resume production are progressing after Katrina brought much of the Gulf Coast to a standstill. A barrel of light crude fell 74 cents on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gasoline futures also slipped 9 cents, to $1.87 a gallon.
The tech sector rallied on news that software maker Oracle plans to acquire rival Siebel Systems and eBay is buying Internet-telephone firm Skype Technologies for a combined $8.45 billion. Wachovia also agreed to acquire car-financing firm Westcorp.
At the close of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 4.38, or 0.04 percent, to 10,682.94.
Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index dropped 0.92, or 0.07 percent, to 1240.56, while the Nasdaq composite index climbed 7.32, or 0.34 percent, to 2182.83.
Wall Street has been speculating about the Fed's rate policy, with many hoping the central bank will halt its string of 10 consecutive quarter-point raises to the nation's benchmark interest rate in order to keep lending costs lower while the Gulf Coast rebuilds.
Oracle rose 21 cents, to $13.49, and Siebel jumped $1.16, to $10.29.
EBay rose 32 cents, to $38.94.
Wachovia fell 81 cents, to $49.58.
Westcorp rose 23 cents, to $61.58.
New York Stock Exchange composite index fell 26.31, to 7637.51.
American Stock Exchange index fell 17.36, to 1700.95.
Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 2.77, to 680.82.
NYSE: 1.93 billion shares, down from 1.98 billion on Friday. Decliners outnumbered advancers 8 to 7.
Nasdaq: 1.74 billion shares, up from 1.64 billion. Advancers outnumbered decliners 4 to 3.
Crude oil for October delivery: $63.34, down 74 cents.
Gold for current delivery: $449.70 a troy ounce, up from $449.00 on Friday.