Stocks advanced today as the price of crude oil retreated for the first time in a week.

The 59 cents a barrel drop in crude oil futures -- to $66.27 -- encouraged Wall Streeters who are trying to convince themselves that energy prices are peaking and really haven't hurt the economy all that much anyway.

The wholesale price of gasoline to be delivered next month dropped 4 cents a gallon in today's futures trading.

The average prices at the pump jumped 18 cents a gallon last week -- the biggest weekly spike since the Energy Department began its national survey 15 years ago -- the government reported after the bell today.

Gas prices usually start to come down after Labor Day when the vacation driving season ends, but things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Last week's spike set new records for crude oil prices four days in a row and even all that has not yet flowed down the pipeline to filling stations.

Energy experts polled by the Bloomberg news service said they believe oil stockpiles are starting to grow again. That trend, plus the post-Labor Day decline in demand should bode for lower prices -- assuming something else doesn't upset the oil market.

Investors were encouraged today by the 20 percent jump in profits reported by Lowe's, the nation's second largest home improvement chain. Home Depot is also projected to report healthy growth.

The strong sales rung up by Lowe's and Home Depot are being read as evidence that consumer spending has not been hurt by the high price of gasoline.

Home Depot was among the two-thirds of the stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average that gained today as the blue chip index advanced 34 points to 10,634.38. The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index climbed 10 points to 2,167.04. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index added three points, closing at 1,233.87.