Falling for the fourth day in a row, crude oil prices lifted the Dow Jones industrial average to its highest level since mid-July.
Only a week ago crude oil was approaching $50 a barrel and predictions were it would climb still higher. Now oil futures are falling faster than they rose, with crude dropping another $1.66 a barrel to $43.55 in today's trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Today's drop was triggered by the weekly government report on petroleum supplies, which revealed stockpiles of crude are being used up more slowly than projected and gasoline supplies are holding steady.
Like the stock market, crude oil trading is influenced by market momentum; once a trend develops, it often reinforces itself.
Momentum helped stocks as well today, pushing the Dow higher for the second day in a row with a surge of trading that began soon after the oil stocks report was issued this morning.
The Dow climbed 83 points to a six-week high of 10,181.74. Other indexes have not recovered as quickly and today returned to about where they were at the beginning of the month. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index gained almost 9 points to 1,104.96. The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index picked up 24 points, closing at 1,860.72.
With oil prices dominating the chatter, traders seemed to pay little attention to other potential market influences today.
Homebuilding stocks slipped a bit on news that new home sales in July fell more than expected to a 1.1 million a year rate. Like the decline in existing home sales reported yesterday, the new home sales numbers reflect buying decisions made early in the summer, when interest rates were heading up. With rates moving down now, sales are expected to recover.
The Commerce Department's durable goods orders report today was more disappointing. It showed orders grew just 0.1 percent in July, well short of the 1.3 percent gain economists were predicting.
Like the housing numbers, the durable goods orders may reflect a lag in the response to events that have since changed -- in this case energy prices, which may have slowed big ticket sales earlier in the summer, but which are now trending down.