Investors saw the correlation between energy prices and the stock market again today as Wall Street was whipsawed by the crude oil market.
Stocks fell sharply when crude hit a new record price in morning trading. Then, when crude oil prices retreated, stocks rapidly reversed course and recovered most of their losses.
Crude rose more than $1 a barrel before falling and the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 50 points prior to its turnaround.
By the close of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, however, crude had fallen 63 cents a barrel to $54.54.
And the closing bell on the New York Stock Exchange left the Dow down less than eight points at 9,749.99 -- another new low for the year.
The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index slipped a point to 1,914.04. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index also fell a point, closing at 1,094.80.
Traders were already worried about oil prices when they got to work, because the weekend price-at-the-pump report from the Lundberg survey showed the average price of gasoline jumped a nickel during the past two weeks to $2.07 nationwide. The highest priced gas is in the San Diego region -- $2.45 a gallon -- the cheapest in Oklahoma -- $1.83.
When crude futures opened higher, stocks followed their script and began to fall.
While Wall Street is legendary for moving based on rumors of rumors, the oil market nowadays is even more volatile, responding to events that traders ordinarily might dismiss. Today, the big influence on crude oil prices was the apparent settlement of an oil workers strike in Norway, which some speculators claimed removed the threat of disruption of shipments from the North Sea.
Fighting in Iraq, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and political instability in Venezuela are among the exotic developments that have been blamed for moving oil prices recently.
While figuring out what influences the oil market has become difficult, there is little difficulty determining what is driving stocks. When oil goes up, stocks go down and vice versa. Some market mavens say the pattern has been so ingrained that there is now an 80 percent negative correlation between the two markets -- which means that when oil goes up, chances are four out of five that the stock market will go down.