Stocks clawed their way back from early losses today after oil prices hit another record high then retreated rapidly.
The two markets moved in sync with stocks steadily trending higher as crude oil prices pulled back from their morning peak of $55.33 a barrel. By the end of the session, crude was down $1.26 from Friday's closing price at $53.67 a barrel while stock indexes eased ahead.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 23 points to 9,956.32. The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index climbed 25 points to 1,936.52. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index advanced six points to 1,114.02.
Oil market observers said traders were reluctant to keep bidding up crude because they are beginning to fear that energy prices are already so high that they are slowing economic growth and forcing businesses and consumers to cut back on their energy use.
The fallout from high prices took down the company that owns the nation's biggest heating oil distributorship. Star Gas Partners, whose Petro Holdings trucks supply customers up and down the East Coast, said it may have to file for bankruptcy because of high oil prices. Trading in Star stock was held up for five hours and when it finally opened, the stock was down 80 percent.
Star apparently has been squeezed because it signed up oil customers before prices began to soar and promised to deliver fuel to them at fixed prices. When heating oil jumped to record levels, the company was caught off base, forced to buy oil at higher prices than it had promised to sell it for.
For the stock market, however, today's retreat in oil prices was enough to offset other negative news.
Delphi Automotive -- the General Motors' parts-making spinoff -- said it will lay off another 1,500 workers on top of 8,000 job cuts that were previously announced.
In the technology sector, job cuts are accelerating rapidly, the job-placement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported. Tech job losses during the third quarter were 60 percent higher than in the second quarter, the report said. Almost 55,000 jobs were cut last quarter, compared with 34,000 in April, May and June.
And the nation's two biggest toy makers warned today that the Grinch is already threatening to steal Christmas. Mattel and Hasbro reported a 2 percent drop in third quarter sales and both cautioned that they are unlikely to meet their profit targets for the year.